Asian Games gold medallist Bajrang Punia will be India’s best bet for a medal in the World Wrestling Championship as a 30-member team seeks a strong performance in the the flagship event beginning here Saturday. Already a bronze winner at the 2013 World Championship, Bajrang has come a long way in last the five years, establishing himself as a force to reckon with in the 65kg category. He was ignored for the prestigious Khel Ratna Award last month but he has left behind the snub and trained hard to have a shot a bettering the colour of his 2013 medal.
Considering the ease with which he won gold at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, Bajrang will be one of the medal favourites. The only Indian to be seeded at this championship, Bajrang will compete on the second day of the championship on Sunday. With Russia’s Illya Bekbulatov, a silver medal winner at the 2018 European championship pulling out, Turkey’s top seed Selahattin Kilicsallayan would be the one to watch out for in the 65kg category.
“We have had very good training sessions since the past couple of weeks followed by quality sparring. We also had the chance to take a good look at the opponent wrestlers and I am confident that we will not fall short on the mat,” said Bajrang.
Vinesh Phogat would have been another strong medal contender in the women’s 50kg but an elbow injury ruled her out. Her cousin Ritu Phogat will now present India’s challenge. It remains to be seen how Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik performs here as she has been struggling for some time. Post her Rio Olympics high, she has not got the desired results. The mentally fragile grappler barely managed to win a bronze at the Gold Coast CWG and returned empty-handed from Jakarta Asian Games.
“We have been sparring regularly and the mood in the squad is really great and positive. The sparring with wrestlers from other countries have also helped us and we are ready for the challenges but we will put up our best efforts saved for the bouts,” said Sakshi.
The bouts will begin tomorrow in four men’s freestyle categories and the most prominent Indian wrestler to take the mat would be Jitender, who was drafted in the 74kg category after celebrated but struggling Sushil Kumar pulled out. Also in action would be Sonba Tanaji Gongane (61kg) Pawan Kumar (86kg) and Sumit (125kg).
Freestyle chief coach Jagmander Singh is confident that the Indians will out up a spirited fight. “All the boys have put in that extra bit. The acclimatization and arriving here in advance have helped the wrestlers to not only helped to adjust but the optimized training sessions have ensured our grapplers are in all in good shape. We have prepared well and are confident we can create history at this Championships,” he said.
Sushil Kumar remains India’s lone gold winner at the World Championships, where India has so far managed to win only seven medals.
World Championship Squad:
Men’s Freestyle: Sandeep Tomar (57kg); Sonba (61kg); Bajrang Punia (65kg); Pankaj Rana (70kg); Jitender (74 kg); Sachin Rathi (79kg); Pawan (86kg); Deepak Raana (92kg); Mosam Khatri (97kg); Sumit(125kg).
Women’s Freestyle: Ritu Phogat (50 kg); Pinki (53 kg); Seema (55 kg); Pooja Dhanda (57 kg); Sangeeta (59 kg); Sakshi Malik (62 kg); Ritu (65 kg); Navjot Kaur (68 kg); Rajni (72 kg); Kiran (76 kg).
Men’s Greco-Roman: Vijay (55kg); Gyanender (60kg); Gaurav Sharma (63kg); Manish (67kg); Kuldeep Malik (72kg); Gurpreet Singh (77kg); Manjeet (82kg); Harpreet(87kg); Hardeep (97kg); Naveen (130kg).