Antim eyes gold & history; Dad fears for her health & fitness 

Haryana wrestler in line to defend U-20 Worlds gold but father says back-to-back high-intensity competitions may cause injuries
Antim Panghal.
Antim Panghal.

CHENNAI: Antim Panghal skipped the U-20 Asian Championships held in Amman City, Jordan last month as the tournament was close on the heels of the selection trials for the Asian Games. She would have done the same with the U-20 World Championships going on in the same city had she known the dates of selection trials for the Senior World Championships, which is also a qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Cutting weight is an uphill task for any wrestler and for Antim it's even tougher. She usually weighs around 58-59kg and has to lose around 6 kilograms ahead of any international event to fit in her weight category of 53kg. As Worlds offers no weight concession, even a gram in excess could render a wrestler ineligible.

Well-versed with the cons, Antim decided to compete at the 2023 U-20 Worlds in Amman City as by then trials date for senior Worlds was not known. The ad-hoc committee running the sport in the country announced the dates of trials on August 14 but Antim had already reached Jordan by then in her bid to defend her 53kg title. She even bulldozed her opponents to storm into the final on Thursday and be in line to become the first wrestler from the country to win back-to-back Worlds titles.

It certainly is heartening news for Antim and her father Ram Niwas Panghal but the latter is also worried about his daughter's fitness and health ahead of two marquee events — Senior Worlds and Asian Games. Kept as a standby earlier, Antim is set to represent the country in the Asian Games after Vinesh Phogat pulled out of the event due to a knee injury.

"She wouldn't have participated (in U-20 Worlds) had the ad-hoc panel announced the trial dates earlier. She already competed in the high-intensity Asian Games trials less than a month ago. In Worlds, a wrestler has to cut weight twice as the competition is held across two days. Now, she will reach India on August 20 and has to cut weight again for senior Worlds trials scheduled on August 25. This can make her vulnerable ahead of the Asian Games and senior Worlds," father Ram Niwas told this daily expressing serious concerns over her daughter's health.

Ram Niwas asserted he will demand exemption from Worlds trials for Antim from the ad-hoc panel. "How can they force an athlete to take part in such high-intensity events with a little gap between them? The panel is there to make life easy for athletes not vice-versa. I strongly feel Antim should be exempted from the Worlds trials and if that is not possible, she should be given some time to recover," said the father.

Antim will take on Mariia Yefremova of Ukraine, a two-time U-17 World champion and internationally unbeaten so far, in the final on Friday. Apart from Antim, her namesake and Savita also entered the 65kg and 62kg finals respectively on Thursday. Reena (57kg) and Harshita (72kg) are also in contention for a bronze medal each.

Gold for Priya

Priya Malik (76kg) became only the second Indian woman wrestler to win U-20 gold as she defeated Laura Celine Kuehn of Germany in the final to finish first. Earlier, Antim had won a 53kg gold medal in the last year's edition to become the first woman from the country to clinch the junior title.

Meanwhile, Arju won the 68kg bronze on Thursday. With two gold (Mohit won 61kg gold on Wednesday) so far, India matched its best show in the event achieved in 2001 when Palwinder Cheema and Ramesh Kumar grabbed the world junior title.

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