Young Indian wrestlers Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik produced impressive performances in the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Saturday to earn a quota spot for the Tokyo Games.
Anshu, 19, and Sonam, 18, making a steady transition from the junior to the senior circuit, joined senior pro Vinesh Phogat (53kg) in making the Olympics cut. India now have three women wrestlers set for the Tokyo Games. Vinesh had qualified through the 2019 World Championship.
Overall, *six Indian wrestlers have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Bajrang Punia (65kg), Ravi Dahiya (57kg) and Deepak Punia (86kg) have earned quota spots in the men’s freestyle event.
While Anshu was dominant in 57kg competition, Sonam’s resilience eventually helped her secure the quota and perhaps shut the door on Rio Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik. Sonam had announced her arrival by defeating Sakshi four times in recent trials, making the 62kg category her own.
“The Kazakh girl was a very good wrestler and I was trailing 0-6, but I was confident of winning even after that. This is incredible,” Sonam, the 2019 world cadet champion, is quoted as saying by United World Wrestling.
Making the cut alongside Anshu was even more special.
“I train with Anshu, she is my partner and to qualify with her is great,” Sonam said. “One of the best feelings.”
Anshu conceded only two points en route the final and winning all her three bouts by technical superiority. She began by beating Korean Jieun Um, then outsmarted Kazak wrestler Emma Tissina and in the semi-final she beat Uzbekistan’s Shokhida Akhmedova.
Anshu, however, had a bigger concern, to make the weight scale.
“I was above weight and we reached Almaty just seven hours before weigh-in,” Anshu said. “I was running at the airport in Tashkent to reduce weight. I just wanted to do it, qualify myself for Tokyo.”
Sonam edged China’s Jia Long 5-2 before winning by technical superiority against Hsin Ping Pai of Taipei. In the semi-final, she trailed 0-6 against Kazakhstan’s Ayaulym Kassymova but reeled of nine points in a row to secure herself the quota.
“She has shown that she is ready for the senior circuit. Look what she has done. People had said that she is still at the cadet level but the consistent victories against Sakshi has boosted her confidence,” Sonam’s personal coach Ajmer Malik told PTI.
“She does not lose confidence or hope now even after conceding points. We are proud of her,” Ajmer, who runs Netaji Subash Chander Sports Institute at Village Madina in Sonepat district, said.
Seema Bisla lost all her three bouts to go out of race in 50kg before earning a consolation win in round 5, while Nisha came close to securing quota in 68kg but lost a 3-1 lead to lose the semi-final by technical superiority against Kyrgyzstan’s Meerim Zhumanazarova. Meerim outsmarted the Indian with her ‘fitley’ (leg lace) attack.
UPDATE: Anshu finished with silver after a hard-fought defeat in the final against Khongorzul Boldsakhian. Sonam Malik too finished with a silver, as she had to concede the final against Jia Long. The Indian’s sensational comeback win in the semi-finals to earn a quota spot took too much out of her, as she seemed to injure her knee.
With PTI Inputs
*Correction: The article originally said seven wrestlers had earned quota places despite listing the correct six names. It has been rectified.
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