Seniors struggle a bit but Greco Roman and junior wrestlers shine in 2022
Senior players struggled while the rise of Greco-Roman wrestlers and exceptional show by the juniors made it an eventful 2022 for Indian wrestling.
They were expected to dominate the field at the Commonwealth Games and they did but the tougher World Championships served as a reality check for the established Indian stars even as the rise of Greco-Roman wrestlers and exceptional show by the juniors made it an eventful 2022 for Indian wrestling.
India won 12 medals at Birmingham CWG, where Sakshi Malik tried to resurrect her career by winning gold but only Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat returned with medals from the World Championships in Belgrade.
The Greco-Roman style, a poor cousin of freestyle wrestling in India, had a lot of cheer with a historic three-medal performance at the U-23 World Championships through Sajan Bhanwala, Nitesh and Vikas.
The juniors, both boys and girls, emerged serious medal contenders in age group competitions across the globe, something which Indian wrestling witnessed for the first time.
The rise of Antim Panghal, who became U-20 world champion in Sofia, is very heartening as she could be India's best bet in 53kg when Vinesh Phogat would not around. Ravi Dahiya became an overnight star after his Olympic silver in 2021 but he remained a bit subdued this year, though he began by winning a gold and a silver on the circuit and later added a gold to his kitty at the Asian Championships.
At the start of the season, he competed in the 61kg as he preferred not to go through the energy-sapping and painful process of the weight cut. After an expected gold at CWG, crashing out of the Worlds was a big shock not for Ravi himself but his legion of fans, given his tremendous grip in the 57kg competition.
Despite possessing exceptional strength, stamina, and technique which combine well with his big heart for the fight, Ravi could not win a medal on the big stage. Interestingly, this year, he trained with Indian coaches at Chhatrasal stadium and also during the national camp in Sonepat after WFI decided not to have foreign coaches for the country's elite wrestlers.
While Ravi struggled, Aman Sehrawat made steady progress in Ravi's 57kg category in 2022. He became the U-23 world champion after winning gold at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in Almaty. Ravi will have to be at his best in 2023 in which a berth for the 2024 Paris Olympics will be at stake.
Aman, who also trains at Chhatrasal stadium, will pose a serious threat to Ravi with 57kg. Interesting battle days are ahead for many established names with many options coming up across weight categories.
Sarita Mor, who won a Worlds bronze in 2021 in women's 57kg, has already decided that she will compete in this Olympic weight category as she will try to qualify for the Paris Games. It means that Anshu Malik, who rose through the junior ranks and also competed at the Tokyo Games, will not have an easy season ahead. Elbow and knee issues kept her silent in 2022 but the woman from Nidani is a true fighter and should be ready for next season in a better way.
Bajrang Punia remains India's best in the 65kg category till now as no wrestler has come close to posing a serious threat to his place in this weight class. He struggled with a mental block this year but overcame it before closing the season with a bronze at the Worlds.
His defence has got slightly better but his attacking game still requires a lot of improvement. Since her shock medal-less show in Tokyo, Vinesh Phogat has looked a pale shadow of her usual dominating self. One of the most talented and powerful woman wrestlers India has seen, and it was heartbreaking to see her struggle.
Her run-in with the establishment in 2021 and the absence of desired results in the follow-up have left her with a lot of question marks. It was good that she won gold at the CWG where the competition was weak and she took that confidence to win a bronze at the Worlds.
She too is a true fighter and hopefully, with the right people around her, she can make a turnaround in 2023 which will be crucial for her, keeping in mind the Paris Games. She is too good a wrestler to lose for trivial issues.
Every possible help should be extended to her so that she regains confidence since if there is one woman wrestler who can bring that elusive Olympic gold, it is Vinesh.