Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik will begin India’s freestyle wrestling campaign at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday. India have always had good wrestlers in freestyle with all four Olympic medals coming in this segment.
This year, we have some seasoned as well as fresh grapplers in Rio with six freestyle wrestlers in the fray, three each in the men’s and women’s segments.
While Yogeshwar Dutt, who will fight in the men’s 65kg category on August 21, remains India’s best bet for a medal, Vinesh, who will fight in the women’s 48kg category on Wednesday, is a dark horse in her division.
Vinesh has an uncomplicated style of wrestling and banks on agility, speed and technical versatility to score points — double and single-leg takedowns being her bread-and-butter techniques from the standing position.
There is a certain amount of unpredictability in her fighting style that could work in her favour when she takes on the favourites in her category, including Mariya Stadnyk of Azerbeijan, Yanan Sun of Vhina and Eri Tosaka of Japan.
Here if a brief profile of the two wrestlers in action for India on Wednesday:
The 23-year-old from Rohtak, Haryana, grew up in the shadow of Geeta Phogat. She qualified for the Games rather late, in May, but earned her ticket by beating a former world champion in the event held in Istanbul. Sakshi began wrestling under coach Ishwar Dahiya in 2002 and has won age-group and senior national championships since then.
Event: Wrestling women’s 58kg
Career Highlights: Bronze in 2015 Asian Championships, Silver in 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
She is the latest talent to come out of the famous Phogat family. She had a difficult qualifying campaign for Rio. Vinesh failed to earn a berth from the Asian Qualifiers after missing out on the podium. In the next tournament, the 1st World Olympic Games qualifiers, she was disqualified for being overweight during the weigh-in. The wrestling federation took action against her, barring her from further competition. The ban was lifted after the federation issued a warning and Vinesh came back strongly by winning her next tournament to earn a ticket for Rio.
Event: Wrestling women’s 48kg
Career highlights: Gold in 2014 Commonwealth Games, bronze in 2014 Asian Games, bronze in 2013 Asian Championships, silver in 2015 Asian Championships, bronze in 2016 Asian Championships