Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik in focus ahead of Wrestling Nationals

With the cream of Indian wrestling in their ranks, defending champions Railways will be the team to beat in the Tata Motors 63rd Men’s National Wrestling and 21st Women’s Senior National Championships, beginning here at the Nandini Nagar Sports Complex from tomorrow, inaugurated by Honb’l Chief Minister,Shri Yogi Adityanath.

The Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB), who will be defending their team titles in all the three sections—Men’s Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Women’s Freestyle— and Haryana have sent the biggest contingent of wrestlers, 48 each, as the championships format allows those states and institutions that had finished on the podium in the last edition, held at Indore.

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) allows participation of only ten wrestlers per section, per state, but Delhi (Freestyle Men), Uttar Pradesh (Freestyle Women) and Services (Greco-Roman) have also benefited from the WFI largesse, permitting them to send extra players in the section in which they had won medals.

WFI president, Brij Bhushan Saran, said the nationals are meant to provide opportunities to up-and-coming young wrestlers. “We have taken a conscious decision to give extra entries to the top three-finishing teams to encourage states more impetus to do well at the nationals,” said the WFI chief.

This WFI had, for the first time, initiated player contracts as which came into effect from November 15. The WFI chief, however, said the contract handing over will take place during a formal announcement tomorrow.

The nationals, concluding on December 2, will see an overall participation of over 800 wrestlers and officials representing 27 states and two institutions.

With an impeccable line-up, the defending championships will yet again force themselves to retain the three crowns. However, their mat men and women will be wary of the lurking danger from Haryana, the powerhouse that had been churning out wrestlers by the dozens.

The RSPB team will be spearheaded by Asian Games and CWG Gold medalist Vinesh Phogat (57kg), Olympic Bronze medalist Sakshi Malik (62kg) and Asian Championship Gold medalist Navjot Kaur in the 68 kg category.

Haryana will be relying on the likes of Mousam Khatri and Geeta Phogat to lead their medal hunt in the nationals here while Services will bank on their top wrestlers.

Among the emerging states, Delhi and UP did well last year. For Delhi, their men in Freestyle finished with the bronze medal in team championships while for UP, it was their women who did a splendid job coming behind Railways and Haryana, last year.

UP has a good crop of young and experienced wrestlers, according to coach Subhash Bhardwaj, who had trained Rio Olympics bronze winner Sakshi Malik. “I am expecting a lot from my squad. We have a bunch of good wrestlers and would definitely fancy to top the overall medal tally,” said Bharadwaj.

But the Greco-Roman events have been the preserve of Railways, followed by Services and Haryana which the last two named states would like to reverse. But it will be an uphill task for them as top national and international medallists are with the Railways.

With wrestling not as popular as it is in other states, the northeastern states of Mizoram (8), Manipur (18) and Nagaland (11) have managed to send a minimum numbers wrestlers in all three sections. Similarly, Puducherry too has sent 24 players (eight each), which is a departure for the Union Territory as it had not sent a full team in earlier nationals.

The grand ceremony will be followed by the matches in the Greco-Roman category.