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.
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.
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.
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.
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
|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|
|Komal Gole||Female wrestling||72||9|
|Seema Bisla||Female wrestling||50||11|
|Lalita Seherawat||Female wrestling||55||11|
|Navjot Kaur||Female wrestling||65||14|
|Sakshi Malik||Female wrestling||62||17|
|Kiran Godara||Female wrestling||76||18|
|Sarita Mor||Female wrestling||57||25|
|Divya Kakran||Female wrestling||68||26|
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
|1967||New Delhi||Bishamber Ali Singh,||Freestyle||57.0||Silver|
|2019||Nursultan||Ravi Kumar Dahiya||Freestyle||57.0||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|
|2012||Strathcona County||Babita Kumari||Female wrestling||51.0||Bronze|
|2012||Strathcona County||Geeta Phogat||Female wrestling||55.0||Bronze|
|2006||Guangzhou||Alka Tomar||Female wrestling||59.0||Bronze|