At the 2016 Rio Olympis, Sakshi Malik created history by becoming the first female wrestler from India to win a medal at the Olympics, when she claimed the bronze in the women's 58kg category. Four years down the line, four women's wrestlers are gearing up to re-create a similar scene in Tokyo.
Sakshi Malik created history at the 2016 Rio Olympics by becoming the first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the quadrennial event. The Haryana-based athlete claimed a bronze medal in the women’s 58 kg category, by virtue of two wins in the repechage bouts. Even though she has not qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, India is set to field a strong four-member women’s contingent in the upcoming event. Vignesh Phogat, who crashed in the quarter-finals in Rio, owing to an injury, will be making her second appearance at the Games.
Let us have a look at the Indian Wrestling Team (Women’s) for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics:
Seema Bisla (Women’s 50kg)
'Struggle' has been constant in Seema Bisla’s career ever since she took up wrestling. Knowing it was impossible to develop her game in her native place – Gudhan Village - she shifted her base to Rohtak, where Seema’s elder sister Sushila provided shelter and funds for her training. In fact, it was Sushila’s sister Nafe Singh, who dished out a lump sum of his salary for Seema’s training. Sooner or later, the efforts had to pay-off.
It was at the 2009 Asian Cadet Championships that she claimed a bronze medal to mark her breakthrough. However, three years after the triumph, a shoulder and neck injury prompted Seema to change her weight category to 67kg. The impact was instant, as she claimed back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2013 Asian Junior Championships, after winning a national title in the same year.
A couple of years later, she once again shifted her weight category, from 67g to 54kg and eventually to 50kg. Even though she was not a front-runner to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, a stellar show at the 2021 Asian Wrestling Championships was enough to defy the norm. However, she made the Tokyo cut during the World Olympic Qualification Tournament, held in Bulgaria, Sofia, in May 2021.
Vinesh Phogat (Women’s 53kg)
With her roots from the Phogat family, already made popular by her cousins Geeta and Babita, and a blockbuster Bollywood movie, the tone was already set for her to achieve unprecedented heights. Following the footsteps of her kins, she overcame taunts from the local communities and other social taboos to mark her arrival at the international stage with a bronze medal win at the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championships. That was the beginning of Vinesh’s incredible story.
She followed it up with a top podium finish at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, followed by a bronze medal at the Asian Games, later that year. Vinesh was all set to make a grand debut at the Olympics in 2016, in Rio. She did board the flight and walked up to the mat, but it went downhill during her quarter-final bout against Sun Yanan after she suffered a knee injury and crashed out of the event.
Her comeback was as stunning as her career itself, as Vinesh brushed aside the ghosts of Rio, going on to claim gold medals each at the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games respectively. A year later, the grappler won her maiden World Championship medal to secure qualification to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. With wins in the Matteo Pellicone Series and the Poland Open earlier this year, she’s in red-hot form going into the Tokyo event.
Anshu Malik (Women’s 57kg)
Daughter of an international wrestler, Anshu initially had to plead to make her way into the 'akhara', while her younger brother Shubham was already receiving formal training in the sport. Months after Anshu started her new journey, her father Dharamvir found out that that the girl was not only a special talent but also had the tenacity to defeat girls who were in the circuit for more than 3-4 years. The full focus was then on Anshu.
The silver medal win at the 2016 Asian Cadet Championship was on the cards, but the third-place finish at the World Cadet Championship was a bonus. Anshu is not vastly experienced at the junior international level, but that was never a barrier during bouts at the senior level. So far, she has featured in six senior tournaments and has won medals in five of them.
The grappler stormed to a second-place finish at the 2021 Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifying event in Almaty, thus paving her way for a maiden appearance at the Games. Anshu has been recently nominated by the WFI (Wrestling Federation of India) for the prestigious Arjuna Award, all at the age of 19. Even if she fails to make a mark at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Anshu has a glorious career ahead.
Sonam Malik (Women’s 62kg)
Teenager Sonam Malik had several roadblocks to overcome before an Olympic berth became barely visible, which also included Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik as a potential competitor. In fact, it was purely based on a recommendation from her coach Ajmer Malik that the 19-year old was allowed to compete at the senior level, even though she never competed at even the junior level to back up the claim.
With a few Cadet Championship wins under her belt, Sonam was finally given clearance for participation at the 2020 Rome Ranking Series, where she booked her place in the Indian team with a win over Sakshi Malik. A few months later, she completed a double over Sakshi and secured a berth for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers.
It was earlier this year that the grappler booked tickets for the quadrennial event with a silver medal win at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers, in Almaty. Not considered a major medal prospect, Sonam is quite capable of proving everyone wrong.