The wait is almost over for wrestling’s grandest and most fierce competition to get underway at the UWW World Wrestling Championship 2019 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan to be held from September 14-22. The tournament is expected to draw widescale attention as it will serve as the first qualification event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics where the top six finishers in each Olympic weight category will secure a berth at the quadrennial event. More than a thousand wrestlers from over 100 countries will be vying for top honours. The Indian team, comprising several elite wrestlers, will be aiming to make their impact felt in three categories – Freestyle Wrestling, Women’s Wrestling and Greco-Roman Wrestling.
Travelling to the tournament from India will be a current world number one, a two-time Olympic medallist and the country’s first female wrestler to claim an Olympic medal. While the top Indian wrestlers will eye a direct berth into the Olympics from the World Championship, even if they miss out on the quota, they will have chances to redeem their place in Tokyo 2020 through the Asian Qualification or the World Qualification tournaments later in the season. India’s wrestling squad will be spearheaded by Bajrang Punia has been handed the top billing in the men's 65kg Freestyle category. Let us categorically breakdown the Indian squad and analyse our chances at the World Championship.
A cautious journey towards gold for Bajrang
India’s biggest medal hope at the World Championship will be shouldered by Bajrang who is the world no. 1 wrestler in the 65kg category. From 60 kg in 2013, Bajrang upped his category to a 65 kg and finished with a silver medal in 2018 Worlds. While the top honour has ever eluded the Haryana lad, he is now determined to change the colour of his medal with the coveted gold this year. The 25-year-old has claimed podium finishes in every tournament he has participated since he was crowned the champion at Asian Games 2018, which has resulted in climbing the pinnacle of ranking in his weight category.
Besides, his multiple exposure trips and training in Russia have lent an added intelligence on the mat. He worked extensively on his leg defence, which he believes will provide an edge over his opponents. While Bajrang seems confident of having a smooth sail in the competition, he has to ensure no surprises coming his way particularly from the defending champion Takuto Otoguro of Japan and Ahmed Chakev of Russia.
Sushil’s long layoff, a concern
The two-time Olympic medallist and 2010 World Champion Sushil Kumar was out of contention for long since the Commonwealth Games 2018, and his comeback hasn’t gone as per plans as well. The most-iconic Indian grappler, who trained with his personal coach Malikov Kamal at Dagestan’s Kayakent sports school in Russia, eked out a spirited Jitender Kumar in the 74kg trials to make it into the contingent. But one has to remember a series of lacklustre performances reeled Sushil this year, for instance, the Medved tournament in Belarus in August, where he suffered a crushing defeat after by the World No. 5 Bekzod Abdurakhmonov in the quarterfinals.
To strike success at Worlds, Sushil has to wade past tough competitions against the likes of Jordan Burroughs of the USA, the 2012 Olympics gold medallist, the reigning European champion Frank Chamizo of Italy and the Georgian wrestler Avtandil Kentchadze.
Vinesh hungry for maiden success
While most of the Indian squad has left for the training camp, Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat has stayed back to train rigorously as she sets her sights on her maiden World Championships medal.
Currently ranked No. 6 in the world, ever since Vinesh switched to 53kg, it has worked wonders for her. She has won gold medals in three consecutive tournaments in the last few months. Vinesh’s superior technical skills will make her one of the tough challengers in the tournament, where she will be pitted against top-notch wrestlers like World Champion Japanese Haruna Okuno, USA’s Sarah Hildebrandt and the familiar challenge from China’s Pang Qianyu.
Lacklustre performances haunt Sakshi
Sakshi Malik brought the greatest glory for Indian women wrestlers winning the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Despite her dominating show, Sakshi hasn’t been at her best recently with a series of mediocre performances in the stride this year. The 26-year-old finished 12th at the Sassari City Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Italy and was seventh at the 2019 Yasar Dogu Memorial in Istanbul, Turkey. Despite a decent outing at the Asian Championship, Sakshi has a big task cut out where she has to change her gears to wade past top wrestlers like Yukako Kawai of Japan, Bulgaria’s Taybe Yusein.
Though she did well in Belarus and at the Asian Championships, it still remains to be seen how Malik reacts against some of the top grapplers in the world. Japan’s Yukako Kawai and the European champion Taybe Yusein of Bulgaria will be the ones to beat in this weight category.
Not only these wrestling stalwarts but youngsters like Deepak Punia, who won gold at the World Junior Championship; Seema, Rahul Aware have all landed in the top-4 seedings.
In 50kg, Seema is another medal hope to watch out for. A gold medal at Yasar Dogu 2019 Ranking Series has propelled her to No. 3 in the world, landing her the No 2 seed.
Not ruling out Greco-Roman Wrestlers
India tasted success in Greco-Roman category at 2013 World Championship When Sandeep Tulsi Yadav won the bronze medal. Since then, there have been a few positive changes for the Greco-Roman grapplers, whose bouts will mark the beginning of the tournament. India had the best medal haul in the Asian Wrestling Championships this year with three silver coming from Gurpreet Singh (77kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg) and Harpreet Singh (82kg) and a solitary bronze medal Gyanender (60kg). The upcoming Wrestling World Championship can also be a game-changer for the Greco-Roman wrestlers if they can secure the maximum number of Olympic quota at that tournament, for which they have had camps in Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan. Harpreet Singh, who hails from Sangrur District in Punjab, is being touted as the wrestler who can channelise a change in Greco-Roman category like Sushil did for Freestyle category.
When it comes to grapplers, India can boast of some of the biggest names. In fact, not only the World Championship the general consensus is that the wrestling contingent will be the most successful among all other Indian contingents at the Tokyo Olympics.
Ravi Kumar (57kg), Rahul Aware (61kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), Karan (70kg), Sushil Kumar (74kg), Jitender (79kg), Deepak Punia (86kg), Parveen (92kg), Mausam Khatri (97kg), Sumit (125kg),
Manjeet (55kg),Manish (60kg), Sagar (63kg), Manish (67kg), Yogesh (72kg), Gurpreet Singh (77kg), Harpreet Singh (82kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Ravi (97kg), Naveen (130kg),
Seema (50kg), Vinesh Phogat (53kg), Lalita (55kg), Sarita (57kg), Pooja Dhanda (59kg), Sakshi Malik (62kg), Navjot Kaur (65kg), Divya Kakran (68kg), Komal Bhagwan Gole (72kg), Kiran (76kg).
The upcoming edition of the Wrestling World Championships will be extremely clinical as it will serve as the first qualification event for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The top six finishers in each Olympic weight category in Nur-Sultan will secure an Olympic qualification for their nations.
September 14 (Saturday): GR – 55-63-72-82kg
September 15 (Sunday): GR – 55-63-72-82kg, GR 67-87-97kg
September 16 (Monday): GR – 67-87-97kg, GR – 60-77-130kg
September 17 (Tuesday): GR – 60-77-130kg, WW – 50-53-55-72kg
September 18 (Wednesday): WW – 50-53-55-72kg, WW – 57-59-65-76kg
September 19 (Thursday): WW – 57-59-65-76kg, WW – 62-68kg, FS – 57-65kg
September 20 (Friday): WW – 62-68kg, FS – 57-65kg, FS – 70-74-92-125kg
September 21 (Saturday): FS – 70-74-92-125kg, FS – 61-79-86-97kg
September 22 (Sunday): FS – 61-79-86-97kg