Young Indian wrestler, Antim Panghal, continued her impressive ascent on the international stage by securing a bronze medal at the 2023 Asian Games on her debut on Thursday.
Competing in the 53 kg category, Antim achieved a significant victory over Bolortuya Bat-Ochir of Mongolia, a Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist. This win marked her third international senior medal of the year and her fourth overall.
Antim faced a challenging draw at the Asian Games, encountering two-time world champion Akari Fujinami in the second round, where she was defeated by the Japanese wrestler. Antim, however, persevered through the repechage route and ultimately secured the bronze medal.
Reflecting on her bronze medal match, Antim remarked, "The Mongolian is a talented wrestler. At the world championships, she had previously lost to someone I had defeated, so I was completely confident about my chances against her."
In a tough quarterfinal bout against Fujinami, the Japanese wrestler extended her winning streak to over 127 bouts, displaying her formidable skills on the mat. Antim, however, remained undeterred by the loss against Fujinami and stated, "Akari Fujinami is a great wrestler. Many believe she will secure the gold medal in Paris effortlessly, but I am determined to work hard and strive to reach her level."
2023: An eventful year for Antim
The year 2023 has been a pivotal year for Antim, a two-time U20 world champion, who transitioned to the senior level in the absence of Vinesh Phogat, who was protesting against former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh's ouster for sexual violence against the women's wrestlers.
Antim came into the limelight after she decided to move the Delhi High Court against the decision to give Vinesh direct entry into the Indian contingent for the Asian Games based on past achievements. Antim topped the selection trials.
This decision by the ad-hoc committee, appointed by the Indian Olympic Association, overlooking the WFI's day-to-day operations sparked opposition from parents and the wrestling community. Wrestlers in Vinesh's and Bajrang Punia's categories sought legal recourse against the decision.
Although the high court chose not to intervene, Antim Panghal found herself at a crossroads as Vinesh was initially selected for Hangzhou, despite the youngster winning the trials.
"Last year, I became the first-ever Indian U20 world champion. I won a gold medal at the National Games, and at the senior level, I secured a silver medal in the 2023 Asian Championships. What more do I need to prove?," asked Antim after the trials.
Nevertheless, fortune tilted in Antim's favour as Vinesh withdrew from the Asian Games due to knee surgery, paving the way for Antim's inclusion in the squad.
She celebrated her Asian Games inclusion by defending her U20 Worlds title, becoming India's sole wrestler to clinch the U20 world title twice.
In the weeks leading up to the Asian Games, Antim fortified her reputation by winning a bronze medal at the World Championships and securing a Paris Olympics 2024 quota place for India.
With three significant senior medals and two U20 world titles to her name, Antim Panghal has appeared as an unstoppable force at this juncture, setting her sights on the Olympics next year.
In one of the darkest times of Indian wrestling, where no administration is at the helm, and UWW has banned the Indian federation, Antim Panghal's rapid rise came as a ray of hope for the Indian wrestling fraternity.