BENGALURU : One gold, one silver and six bronze medals — India’s performance in the last edition of the Asian Wrestling Championships was decent.But it wasn’t satisfactory as top grapplers including Bajrang Punia (65kg), Vinesh Phogat (50kg) and Sakshi Malik (62kg) had to settle for a lesser medal. Phogat bagged silver while Punia and Malik secured a bronze medal each.The 2019 edition, which begins on Tuesday at Xi’an, China, will be a different test. In terms of the medals, it won’t hold much significance. But with tougher events like World Championships and Olympic qualification coming up, it will be a good platform for the wrestlers to test their skills.
Among men, Punia will spearhead India’s challenge. The World No 1 in his weight category has been in fine form. The 25-year-old has missed the yellow metal only once since the Asian Championship last year. But more than winning gold in Xi’an, Punia will want to try out the new techniques, which he has been working on in India, after opting out of a training stint abroad.
“I have been working on various techniques at the SAI centre. I have learnt from my mistakes in the Worlds. Asian Championships will be the first tournament where I will be trying my new techniques,” said Punia, who won the gold medal in the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament in Bulgaria last month. “There, I can also gauge the shortfalls and prepare accordingly for tougher competitions.”
In women’s category, India will be a strong contender. All grapplers in the squad took part in the Beat the Streets competition in Los Angeles and did well against American and Mexican wrestlers. They also had a fortnight-long training stint at the US Olympic Training Center under foreign coach Andrew Cook.
“All of our female wrestlers are experienced and are capable of winning medals. They have worked on the defence mostly in Colorado. They will be up against Japanese wrestlers and that’s good for their preparation for Worlds,” said Kuldeep Malik, women’s chief national coach.
However, the eyes will be on Vinesh and Sakshi. Both of them had returned empty-handed from the World Championships and will be eager to make a mark. Phogat, who bagged silver in the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament in her new weight category (53kg), will continue her transition. However, for Malik, it will be a last chance to get things right before the Olympic qualification events.
“The problem is more psychological. She is doing well but is yet to get the confidence back. We have worked on her leg defence and a sports psychologist is also helping her. We hope she gets her momentum back in China,” Kuldeep said.Besides them, Pooja Dhanda will be the one to look forward to. The 57kg specialist was the only female wrestler to return with a medal from the worlds. She also won gold in the Bulgaria event and will look to continue her good run.