The moment Sakshi Malik stands atop the weighing machine, other young wrestler fix their gaze at the metre to see what the Rio Olympic medallist weighs. Some try to shake hands after she steps down, others try to click a selfie. Sakshi, protected by five bodyguards, quickly makes her way out of the room. More than the draw itself, the officials are worried about how they will handle the younger wrestlers when another known wrestler – Geeta Phogat – arrives. They stop the process for a moment and as soon as Geeta arrives, they quickly conduct the weigh-ins and she is escorted back, like Sakshi, by bodyguards. The two wrestlers will highlight the second day of the Senior Nationals Wrestling Championships in Indore.
All eyes will be on Sakshi on the second day as she is the only Indian women’s wrestler to win an Olympic medal. The crowd, however, is also excited to watch Geeta wrestle in their city. The opening day saw two Phogat sisters — Vinesh and Ritu – dominate their respective categories to win gold medals and expectations will be the same from the eldest sister of Dangal movie fame. Another Phogat, Sangeeta, will also wrestle in 53kg.
Before winning the bronze medal in Rio, Sakshi had always been the second choice for India in 58kg while Geeta made it her own. Geeta won the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold in New Delhi and Sakshi finished with a silver four years later in Glasgow. But now, Sakshi will be competing in 62kg while Geeta will wrestle in 57kg on Friday.
While the Indore crowd will be looking forward to the star wrestlers, they witnessed two of India’s top wrestlers dominate the mat. Vinesh secured a gold medal in the 55kg while Ritu won her third consecutive gold medal in Senior Nationals.
Competing in the new 50 kg weight category, Ritu pinned her first opponent in 39 seconds. Vinesh was better. She did it in 12 seconds. But after that, both had a different route to finals. While Vinesh continued to thrash her opponents, Ritu had to wrestle one of her toughest competitor in Sheetal Tomar in the quarter-finals. She managed to beat her 6-2 but she admits that was one of her toughest matches in Nationals.
“I was worried about that bout because she had defeated me in the World Championships trials in 53kg. So I wanted to avenge that defeat. It’s always nice to win a medal,” said Ritu.
Her final was against a familiar opponent in Niramala Bura who she beat in the final of 2015 Nationals and in the semi-finals last year. It was Nirmala who opened the scoring but Ritu countered with attacks on her legs before finishing the bout 6-2.
“I have wrestled her in Haryana and at nationals so I know her weakness. She is not the big threats but the young girls who are coming up are very strong. I need to be ready for them and Sheetal is one of them,” she said.
Vinesh, however, is focusing more on what lies ahead for her. After beating Manisha to claim the National title, the 23-year-old says she wanted to test herself on the mat for a reason.
“I had a hit on the back during training which caused problem in my practice. It really affected me because I had difficulty concentrating. So this tournament was something I wanted to do so I could check my situation. There is not much competition in nationals but before the Commonwealth Championship and CWG and Asian Games next year, I wanted to compete here,” said Vinesh.
Both Ritu and Vinesh would turn training partners in between the bouts and the latter would sit in the coach’s corner when Ritu wrestled. She had no doubt that Ritu won’t win the gold and says she will be back on Friday for Geeta and Sangeeta.
“We both will come. I want people to see that if we can do it, everyone else can do it too. Tomorrow will be a big day for all of us,” she says.
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