Five gold, three silver and four bronze. On the face of it, that is a pretty impressive haul for India’s wrestlers from the Commonwealth Games. In terms of gold medals, it is second only to shooting and equal with weightlifting.
But despite the gold rush, was it a campaign that will give the squad great confidence ahead of the Asian Games? Confidence that will be needed because at the Asian Games, India will run into wrestlers from Japan, Iran, Mongolia, South Korea, Uzbekistan and China.
As good as the Canadians and the Nigerians were, they aren’t at the level of the Asian giants. In the 2017 Wrestling World Championships freestyle category, Japan alone won five gold medals. That translates into five world champions. Iran and Mongolia have a further one world champion each.
That’s seven world champions in a total of 16 weight categories. There was also one silver medallist and five bronze medallists from Asia.
At the 2018 Asian Championships, India’s wrestlers ended up with one gold, one silver and six bronze. China claimed 7 gold medals. Iran, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan relegated Japan to fifth place.
These are numbers that represent the quantum leap that our wrestlers will have to make in a few months time.
India’s women won six medals at the Gold Coast. Only one of them – Vinesh Phogat – was a gold. Babita and Pooja Dhanda returned with silver while Sakshi Malik, Divya Kakran and Kiran won bronze.
But in the last Asian Games, India’s women returned with just two bronze medals. Part of the reason is once again the Japanese. Four of Japan’s reigning world champions are women. It means that you are going up again the best in the business and frankly, with the exception of Vinesh, the others don’t look like making the cut.
Vinesh got better through the tournament. She had an injury concern as she flew to the Gold Coast but she clearly gained in confidence with every bout. By the time the final came around, her leg attacks were simply too quick for her Canadian opponent, Jessie MacDonald. But she competes in the 50 kg class where she will run into the Lei Chun (China), who beat her at the Asian Championships earlier this year and Japan’s Yuki Irie.
Sakshi Malik just didn’t look fit enough. She has moved up a weight class to the 62 kg. At the Rio Olympics, she had competed in the 58 kg category. And as a result, she looks to have lost some of the quickness that made her a solid competitor. She remains just as powerful but the loss in speed and agility seems to have hurt her.
The others wrestlers look solid too but are they good enough to face the best in the business? In the Asian Championships earlier this year, India’s women ended up with one gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
It doesn’t get easier for the men. At the last Asian Games, Yogeshwar Dutt was India’s sole gold medallist while Bajrang ended up with a silver. Narsingh Yadav, who now stands suspended for doping, brought in a bronze.
At the CWG Games, we saw two Indian wrestlers truly dominate the competition – Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar’s protege, Bajrang. They truly looked like they were too good for the competition and that is perhaps the bare minimum standard ahead of the Asian Games.
Sushil just looked bored at times. Too skilled and too experienced for most of the wrestlers in the competition. In fact, he looked so good that one wondered whether India might have been better served by giving the opportunity to a younger wrestler.
Rashid Kurbanov has been dominating the 74 kg class for a while now but Sushil will know he can compete. If he is fit and focused, it would be hard to rule him out.
Similarly, Bajrang has shown over the years that he is capable of taking the fight to the best. He is consistently among the medals but will he be able to strike gold? He has been competing at the international level for a while now and the experience will certainly come in handy.
Rahul Aware and Sumit did well to win gold medals but they may be out of their depth against the tougher competition that they will face at the Asian Games.
But there is a silver lining to this – if you can compete well at the Asian level, you almost certainly know that you will be in with a chance when the Olympics come around.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that every athletes eventual goal?