After a rather dull (and expected) start to the Wrestling World Championships in Nursultan, Kazakhstan, India’s campaign sprung to life with Vinesh Phogat’s sensational performance and culminated in the country’s best-ever medal return from the senior event.

On Sunday, when Rahul Aware bagged a bronze medal in the 61kg (non-Olympic) category, he ensured Indian grapplers improved their best-ever medal haul at Championships: it was the country’s fifth medal in this year’s event.

India’s previous best show was in 2013, when Amit Dahiya (silver), Bajrang Punia (bronze) and Sandeep Tulsi Yadav (bronze in Greco-Roman) had won three medals.

The headline-maker was Deepak Punia, who was the only Indian to reach the final but had to finish with a silver medal without competing for gold, after having pulled due to injury.

The morning of the final day of the championships brought with it the news that Deepak will not be able to compete in Sunday’s final against Iranian great Hassan Yazdani due to an ankle injury that was initially sustained in the first bout but got progressively worse through the day. By the time the semi-final against Switzerland’s Stefan Reichmuth ended, Deepak was limping and the right eye was swollen shut.

Deepak became only the fifth Indian ever to reach the World Championship after Bishamber Singh (1967) Sushil Kumar (2010), Amit Dahiya (2013) and Bajarang Punia (2018). In August this year, he had become the junior world champion.

Sushil Kumar remains India’s only World Champion. He had won a gold in 2010 in Moscow.

After junior crown, senior silver Deepak Punia is on the fast track to stardom

On the final day, Aware outclassed Tyler Lee Graff, the 2017 Pan- America champion, 11-4 in the 61kg bronze play-off to take India’s tally to five medals. Aware was in complete control of the bout and jumped in joy at the end, having won the biggest medal of his career.

The Maharashtra grappler had earlier won a gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a bronze at the Asian Championships (2011). He is also a Junior World silver medallist (2009).

Earlier in the tournament, Ravi Dahiya had scripted some sensational performances, including a comeback from 0-6 down to a win by technical superiority (18-6), as he became the first male wrestler to book his ticket to Tokyo 2020.

Confident Ravi Dahiya assures bright future after winning bronze at World Championships

That day was, unfortunately, a bittersweet one for Indian wrestling as the top seed in his category, Bajrang Punia, finished on the losing side of a controversial semi-final against a wrestler representing the hosts. While Punia had ensured his Olympic quota first, and a historic third medal the next day, he was left livid after a defeat that prevented him from going for gold.

Breaking down Bajrang Punia’s controversial semi-final defeat

Undoubtedly, one of the stories of the championships for India, was Vinesh Phogat winning a bronze after being handed a draw from hell in a stacked weight category. She was the first Indian grappler to ensure an Olympic quota for Tokyo 2020 as well, as she went on to finally add the elusive World Championships medal to her cabinet.

In mind and body, Vinesh Phogat sings a different tune on her way to World C’ships medal

Elsewhere, there was more disappointment in the Greco-Roman categories, with no Indian finishing in the top 10. Among the big names, Sakshi Malik and Sushil Kumar both lost in their first round bouts and failed to reach the repechage rounds. There was heartbreak for the impressive Pooja Dhanda as well as she came within a few minutes to become only the second Indian to be a multiple world championship medallist but lost in the bronze medal bout.

Here’s a complete wrap of India’s performance at Nursultan 2019:

Indian wrestlers at Nursultan Worlds 2019

Name Style Weight Rank
Deepak Punia Freestyle 86 2 (SILVER, OLYMPIC QUOTA)
Ravi Kumar Dahiya Freestyle 57 3 (BRONZE, OLYMPIC QUOTA)
Rahul Aware Freestyle 61 3 (BRONZE, NON-OLYMPIC CAT)
Bajrang Punia Freestyle 65 3 (BRONZE, OLYMPIC QUOTA)
Vinesh Phogat Female wrestling 53 3 (BRONZE, OLYMPIC QUOTA)
Pooja Dhanda Female wrestling 59 5
Parveen Freestyle 92 7
Jitender Freestyle 79 8
Komal Gole Female wrestling 72 9
Seema Bisla Female wrestling 50 11
Lalita Seherawat Female wrestling 55 11
Gurpreet Singh Greco-Roman 77 12
Navjot Kaur Female wrestling 65 14
Manish Kundu Greco-Roman 60 15
Yogesh Sangwan Greco-Roman 72 16
Sagar Greco-Roman 63 17
Ravi Rathee Greco-Roman 97 17
Sakshi Malik Female wrestling 62 17
Manjeet Greco-Roman 55 18
Kiran Godara Female wrestling 76 18
Harpreet Singh Greco-Roman 82 20
Sushil Kumar Freestyle 74 21
Karan Mor Freestyle 70 24
Mausam Khatri Freestyle 97 24
Sumit Malik Freestyle 125 24
Sarita Mor Female wrestling 57 25
Divya Kakran Female wrestling 68 26
Manish Greco-Roman 67 31
Naveen Sevila Greco-Roman 130 31
Sunil Kumar Greco-Roman 87 33

And with India’s record performance, the medal count from the senior worlds went up to 18 overall while Bajrang Punia’s third Worlds medal saw him cement his status as the most successful Indian wrestler at the Championships.

Indian medal winners at Wrestling Worlds

Edition Place Name Style Weight Medal
2010 Moscow Sushil Kumar Freestyle 66.0 Gold
2019 Nursultan Deepak Punia Freestyle 86.0 Silver
2018 Budapest Bajrang Punia Freestyle 65.0 Silver
2013 Budapest Amit Kumar Freestyle 55.0 Silver
1967 New Delhi Bishamber Ali Singh, Freestyle 57.0 Silver
2019 Nursultan Ravi Kumar Dahiya Freestyle 57.0 Bronze
2019 Nursultan Rahul Aware Freestyle 61.0 Bronze
2019 Nursultan Bajrang Punia Freestyle 65.0 Bronze
2019 Nursultan Vinesh Phogat Female wrestling 53.0 Bronze
2018 Budapest Pooja Dhanda Female wrestling 57.0 Bronze
2015 Las Vegas Narsingh Yadav Freestyle 74.0 Bronze
2013 Budapest Sandeep Yadav Greco-Roman 66.0 Bronze
2013 Budapest Bajrang Punia Freestyle 60.0 Bronze
2012 Strathcona County Babita Kumari Female wrestling 51.0 Bronze
2012 Strathcona County Geeta Phogat Female wrestling 55.0 Bronze
2009 Herning Rames Kumar Freestyle 74.0 Bronze
2006 Guangzhou Alka Tomar Female wrestling 59.0 Bronze
1961 Yokohama Udey Chand Freestyle 67.0 Bronze