When the 2019 World Wrestling Championships begin in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan from September 14, the Indian contingent will know that the odds are stacked against them. Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat will lead the challenge but if any of India’s wrestlers are looking for some last-minute inspiration they only need to look as far as Sushil Kumar, who remains the only Indian to have won gold at the World Championships.
In 2010, Sushil had beaten Alan Gogaev of Russia 3-1 in straight rounds in the final of the 66 kg freestyle category at the Olympiyskiy Sports Centre in Moscow. It was a triumph built on the Indian wrestler’s trademark power moves.
He went on the offensive from the beginning, using his leg take-down moves to unsettle the technically sound Russian in Round 1. These moves earned him two quick points which in turn allowed him to exert even greater control over the proceedings. Gogaev took a point back but Sushil defended well to end the opening round 2-1.
Gogaev, responded to the scoreline, by going on the offensive at the start of the second period, Sushil managed to control his opponent and scored a point with another takedown to surprise the home crowd. It was a close, gritty bout that saw Sushil take advantage of his experience to emerge victorious.
Watch the gold medal-winning performance here:
In 2018, Bajrang Punia’s bid to become only the second Indian to win a gold medal at the World Championship fell flat as a tactically superior Takuto Otoguro stunned the Indian in the 65kg final at Budapest.
Only the fourth Indian ever to make it to the World Championship gold medal match, the 24-year-old Bajrang was rattled by the 19-year old Otoguro, who consistently attacked the left leg of Indian and emerged a comfortable 16-9 winner. He became Japan’s youngest World Champion at the age of 19.
Despite his loss, Bajrang became the first Indian wrestler to win two medals at the senior world championships as he had won a bronze medal at the 2013 worlds in the same city.
This time, Bajrang returns as the top-ranked wrestler in his category and he will be looking to go one better.
Watch the bout here:
In 2013, Amit Kumar Dahiya won the silver medal at the World Championships. The 19-year-old Amit lost out to Iranian Rahimi Hassan Farma, whom he had defeated at the London Olympics in 2012, 1-2 in the 55kg gold medal bout.
A knee injury put him out of action soon after that and he hasn’t managed to achieve the highs in his career that many thought he would.
Watch the bout here:
There has been one other silver medallist – Bishambar Ali Singh, who was also the first Indian to win silver. He made the final against Ali Aliyev of Soviet Union in the men’s freestyle 57kg category in New Delhi in 1967 – the only time India has hosted the event.
Aliyev was the defending champion, having won the title in Toledo in the 57 kg category and he was also a three-time champion in the 52kg category. He proved to be too strong for the Indian but Singh was the only Indian athlete to make it to the podium then.
There have been nine Indian bronze medallists over the years as well.
Indian medal winners at Wrestling Worlds
|1967-11-12||New Delhi||Singh, Bishamber Ali||Freestyle||57.0||2|
|2018-10-22||Budapest||Dhanda, Pooja||Female wrestling||57.0||3|
|2015-09-10||Las Vegas||Yadav, Narsingh Panchav||Freestyle||74.0||3|
|2012-09-27||Strathcona County||Babita, Kumari||Female wrestling||51.0||3|
|2012-09-27||Strathcona County||Geeta||Female wrestling||55.0||3|
|2006-09-29||Guangzhou||Tomar, Alka||Female wrestling||59.0||3|