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With Love from Japan- Anshu Malik's Paris Olympics quota triumph

The story behind Anshu Malik's Paris quota triumph has a Japanese connection and that includes training with the best in the world.

With Love from Japan- Anshu Maliks Paris Olympics quota triumph

Anshu Malik in action at the Olympic qualifiers trials. (PritishRaj/TheBridge)


Pritish Raj

Updated: 21 April 2024 6:08 AM GMT

Wrestler Anshu Malik defeated Laylokhon Sobirova of Uzbekistan in the semifinal of the Asian Olympic Qualifiers to win a Paris Olympics quota place in the 57kg category on Saturday.

Anshu didn't give Laylokhon a chance to recover and was on top of her game throughout the bout.

In her final bout, there was one moment of brilliance when Anshu threw her opponent in the air despite her resistance.

On her way to Olympic qualification, Anshu constantly produced this move, displaying her newly acquired technique in Japan.

Anshu added strength to her attack during her training stint at Nippon Sports Science University in Yokohama.

The 22-year-old performed a similar move during her win against Sarita Mor back home in the trials for this tournament.

Tied at 2-2 with 37 seconds to go, Anshu was being pushed by Sarita and was on the verge of conceding a point by stepping out.

However, the very next moment, Anshu lifted Sarita and flipped her back on the mat, earning four more points to take a 6-2 lead, which would prove decisive.

"I have never done something like this. My body reacted instinctively in that situation," Anshu told The Bridge after the bout.

After the Jaipur nationals in February, Anshu received an invitation and trained in Japan for almost a month.

"As you saw yourself, it was an instant reaction. I am not used to throws and moves like these. But after the training stint in Japan, my muscle memory has picked up such moves in a moment of crisis," Anshu had said after her trials.

The muscle memory she is talking about has developed after sparring with the likes of Kaori Icho, Yui Sasaki, and Akari Fujinami in the invitation-only facility, the month-long stay exposed Malik to moves and mindsets that she never knew existed.

Inspired by humility of Japanese culture

Anshu travelled with her father, Dharamveer Malik, to Japan.

"I was awestruck by their humility. They were warm and giving, and it seemed like they wanted to learn from me," Anshu said.

Sparring with the likes of Kaori Icho, the first female athlete to win four consecutive Olympic golds in an individual event, any athlete is bound to be awestruck.

Other sparring partners were Susaki, a four-time world champion, and Fujinami, the defending world champion in the 53kg category.

"I was a bit starry-eyed when I first entered the hall, but everyone went out of their way to make me feel comfortable," said Malik.

Anshu spent time sparring with the Japanese wrestlers and improved her in-game presence on the mat.

"Honestly, I have been to Europe and trained in other places too but Japan was a different experience altogether," Anshu explained.

One standout moment that inspired Anshu was the mentality and approach of the Japanese wrestlers.

"They do everything with a smile on their face. If they are trying a move on the mat, everyone will be committed to it. They enjoy the whole process despite the result. I really liked that," Anshu said.

A disciplined culture in Japan

Apart from the food and language, Anshu's father, Dharamveer, was inspired by the discipline of the Japanese wrestlers.

"We mostly focus on gaining match practice. Anshu would play matches back-to-back or spar with other players on the mat. Most of her time was spent on the mat," said Dharamveer.

When asked about the major difference between the wrestling culture of India and Japan, Dharamveer pointed out the work rate.

"The most interesting thing for me was the way these guys focus on their training and their discipline. There is no running away from hard work. Their work rate is way above of other countries, and that is why they have Olympic medals," he said.

Like Anshu, Dharamveer was blown away by the hospitality of the Japanese.

"The best thing for us was the hospitality and warmth of the people there. All of these guys were very welcoming to us and made us feel at home," Dharamveer recalled his experience.

Anshu's road ahead

Anushu's primary goal is to win the trials for Olympics qualifiers and the quota for the country.

With Sarita Mor on her heels in 57kg, Anshu might have to battle it out with her in another trial before the showpiece event of Olympics.

However, the pathway for quota winners in wrestling remain unclear as there has been no clear guidelines from the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

In a narrative akin to a protagonist's journey in an anime, Anshu Malik's quest for Olympic glory reflects a solid comeback story.

10 months back, Anshu was in tears after getting out in first round of the Asian Games trials but like a character honing their skills through rigorous training arcs, Malik's adaptation and comeback from her knee injury has been remarkable.

If Anshu sits on the flight to Paris in July, this will be her second Olympics.

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