Asian Games: Bajrang Punia back in action as Indian wrestlers start tough campaign

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Bajrang Punia, who was an integral part of Indian wrestlers’ protests earlier this year, is set to compete for the first time in over a year as wrestling begins at the Hangzhou Asian Games on October 4.

India announced a full-strength 18-member squad that includes a mix of Olympians like Bajrang and Deepak Punia as well as India’s next generation of wrestlers Antim Pangal and Aman Sehrawat.

Who is in the Indian wrestling team for the Asian Games?

Greco-Roman: Gyanendra (60kg), Neeraj (76kg), Vikas (77kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Narinder Cheema (97kg) and Naveen (130kg)

Men’s Freestyle: Aman Sehrawat (57 kg), Bajrang Punia (65 kg), Yash (74 kg), Deepak Punia (86 kg), Vicky (97 kg) and Sumit (125 kg).

Women’s Freestyle: Pooja Gehlot (50 kg), Antim Pangal (53 kg), Mansi Ahlawat (57 kg), Sonam Malik (62 kg), Radhika (68 kg) and Kiran (76 kg)

What was the drama during the squad selection?

There were selection trials for each category held in July but with a caveat: Bajrang and Vinesh Phogat would be exempted.

The reason was that the ad-hoc committee in charge of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) felt that the two wrestlers deserved a place in the team without trial. The WFI policy had a selection clause that allowed direct entry to World Championship medalists and they did not train for long due to protests against former WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

This, however, did not go down well with Vishal Kaliraman and Antim. They both won the trials held in New Delhi but were named as standbys for Bajrang and Vinesh respectively.

Who are the medalists?

Six Indian wrestlers – Radhika, Mansi, Kiran, Vikas, Neeraj and Naveen – have both received first-round byes and are all a win away from bronze.

Apart from them, the four wrestlers hoping for a medal are:

a man: He is the current U20 World Champion, Asian Champion and has established himself as India’s #1 wrestler in the 57kg category. And this is a great opportunity for the 19-year-old to prove himself at senior level.

Bajrang: It’s going to be extremely difficult. A lot has changed in the past year and Iran’s Rahman Amuzad, the two-time Asian champion, is the undisputed favourite. Bajrang will also be wary of Uzbekistan’s Abos Rakhmonov, who beat the Indian in the Bolat Turlikhanov Cup last year.

Deepak: He’s making a comeback after a year-long hiatus and has two main men to go past: the legendary Hasan Yazdani and Azmat Daulaitbekov. Yazdani has won six world and Olympic medals since winning the 2018 Asian Games and won a world-best silver last month while Kazakhstan’s Daulaitbekov is also the world-best bronze medallist.

Antim: He is India’s most in-form wrestler. Antim, 19, comes into the Asian Games having won bronze at the World Championships. Just before that, he defended his World Under-20 title. She is India’s next best wrestler in the Vinesh-dominated 53kg category but faces a tough draw: second seed Jasmine Imaiva and then Japan’s Akari Fujinami in the quarters – the 19-year-old two-time world and Asian champion on a 100-match winning streak.

Who are the big names?

The likes of Vinesh, Ravi Dahiya, Sakshi Malik and Anshu Malik will be ruled out of the Asian Games. Vinesh was injured during training and underwent knee surgery. Olympic silver medalist Robbie lost the trials, and also needed knee surgery. Sakshi did not compete in the trials while Sarita More and Anshu, both world champion medallists, also lost the trials.

What happened at Asiaday 2018?

Vinesh became the first Indian woman wrestler to win Asian gold, while Divya Kakran won bronze in the 68 kg category. Bajrang was the only male wrestler to win a medal as he won gold.

Wait, the Indian Federation was not suspended?

Yes. Indians had to compete under a neutral flag at last month’s World Championships since the Indian Wrestling Federation was suspended by global body United World Wrestling. However, since the Indian Olympic Association has submitted the squad for the Asian Games, the wrestlers will be allowed to wear Indian jerseys and compete under the Indian flag.



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