With Paris Olympics a year away, the path for Indian wrestlers to qualify for the marquee event begins at the 2023 Asian Wrestling Championships which began on Sunday in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The Greco-Roman events took place on April 9-10.

Asian Wrestling Championships: Rupin clinches silver as India win four medals in Greco-Roman

Now the women’s freestyle competitions take place on April 11-12 with the men’s freestyle event scheduled for April 13-14.

The continental championship will determine the seeds for the Wrestling World Championships to be held in Belgrade, Serbia in September. The world championships serves as the first qualification tournament for Paris with 90 quota places up for grabs.

The Asian championships were originally scheduled to be held in New Delhi from March 28 to April 2. However, United World Wrestling stripped India off its hosting rights due to the controversy surrounding allegations of sexual harassment and mental torture against Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Saran Singh.

The Sports Authority of India formed a five-member Oversight Committee to look into the allegations.

The OC held trials to select the 30-member squad for continental championships with India’s top wrestlers like Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Ravi Dahiya and Sakshi Malik not attending the trials. Ravi missed the trials due to a knee injury.

In the absence of the big stars, Deepak Punia headlines’ India’s 30-member squad for the competition.

The 23-year-old, a silver medallist in the 86kg event at the 2019 World Championships, is making his return to the mat after recovering from an elbow injury last year. Punia will be competing in the non-Olympic 92kg event and told the Hindustan Times that the decision to compete in the higher weight class was to assess his game readiness.

“This will be my first competition of the year, so my primary goal is to assess my game readiness. Since this isn’t an Olympic qualifier, I decided not to cut weight and instead focus on getting back into competitive rhythm. I will keep switching between 86kg and 92kg till this year’s world championships depending on the competitions,” he said.

With three-time defending champion Ravi Dahiya not competing, India’s hopes of a podium finish will rest on 2022 U-23 World Championship gold medallist Aman Sehrawat. The 17-year-old comes into the competition after winning bronze at the Zagreb Open in January.

U-20 World Champion Antim Panghal headlines the women’s freestyle squad with the 19-year-old hoping to finish on the podium on her debut.

Two-time Asian Champion Sarita Mor is in the running to win her third gold medal while there are hopes from 2021 World Championships silver medallist Anshu Malik in the 57kg event as well as 2022 U20 World Championships silver medallist Sonam Malik.

Update: On Tuesday, India’s Nisha reached the final of 68kg. Neelam and Priya have made it to the bronze medal bouts in 50kg and 76kg. Sarita finished third in her group and missed out on the medal rounds. Sito too missed out on a medal.

India’s squad for Asian Wrestling Championships (WW and FS) 

Women’s Freestyle: Neelam Sirohi (50kg), Antim Panghal (53kg), Sito (55kg) Anshu Malik (57kg), Sarita Mor (59kg), Sonam Malik (62kg), Manisha (65kg), Nisha Dahiya (68kg), Reetika Hooda (72kg), Priya Malik (76kg)

Men’s Freestyle: Aman Sehrawat (57kg), Pankaj (61kg), Anuj Kumar (65kg), Mulayam Yadav (70kg), Yash Tushir (74kg), Deepak (79kg), Jonty Kumar (86kg), Deepak Punia (92kg), Deepak Nehra (97kg), Anirudh Gulia (125kg)