Indian wrestlers had a stellar run in the Rome Ranking Series in Italy, returning with 7 medals, including four gold. Bajrang Punia, despite looking rusty in his run to the finals, managed to turn his form around in the summit clash to return with the yellow metal, and Ravi Dahiya managed to bag the top honours on the last day of the event to ensure India had a memorable outing at the start of the year.
While, Punia, who was playing his first competitive tournament after his bronze medal in the World Championships in 2019, looked rusty and well short of match practice in his 65 kg category, he managed to put his experience to good use in the finals, where he pinned his USA rival Jordan Oliver to the mat, and managed a hard-fought 4-3 win. Despite his footwork not being his fluent best, the Indian’s win ensures that Punia has emerged as one of the top contenders for a medal in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Dahiya, on the other hand, looked strong and superior in the 61 kg round event. Although he switched from his regular 57 kg division for this event, the way he went about tackling his rivals makes him one of the dark horses.
Jitender, who had won the men’s wrestling trials, had a tournament to forget as he crashed out in the global event. Competing in the 74 kg weight division, Jitender had edged out Sushil Kumar for a spot in the team, but his showing at Rome warrants the question of whether he is ready to replace the stalwart Sushil and can win India medals consistently.
Vinesh Phogat, the World Championships bronze medalist, was on fire in the event as she completely mauled her opponents’ en route her maiden Ranking Series gold. In the semis, Vinesh got the better of two-time world champion Qiyanu Pang of China, and here next aim will be the Asian Championships and the Olympics, where she will compete in the 53 kg category.
Along with the freestyle wrestlers being on top of their game, the Greco Roman squad from India too pitched in with a stellar showing, with Gurpreet, Sunil, Sajan and Anshu Malik returning with medals. While Gurpreet won gold, the others returned with a silver.
The showing from the Indian grapplers in the tough competition remains heartening. With the wrestlers returning with a medal from the Olympics in every edition since the 2012 London Games, it is hoped that the trend can continue well into 2020 as well. If the current form is to go by, there is no reason to think otherwise.