India win 3 Greco-Roman bronze medals in Asian wrestling championships
The medals by Arjun Halakurki, Sunil Kumar and Neeraj should boost a discipline that has lived in the shadows of freestyle wrestling in India
Greco-Roman category has been a weak link in Indian wrestling and occasional international success has proved a false dawn. Men’s freestyle holds sway in India and with women’s wrestling had seven berths at the Tokyo Olympics. Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia won silver and bronze respectively. No GR wrestler qualified for Tokyo. It is also one reason why the discipline is often last in terms of priority when it comes to facilities, exposure tours, etc.
On the first day of the Asian championships in Ulan Baatar, Greco-Roman wrestlers issued a timely reminder that they have the potential to shine at the international stage. Arjun Halakurki (55kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg) and Neeraj (63kg) won bronze medals, providing a big push to India’s campaign with competition in five more Greco categories, freestyle and women's wrestling to follow.
Kumar has shown promise on the international stage with gold at the Asian under-23 championships in 2018 and 2019. He became India’s first gold medallist in Greco-Roman at the Asian championships after 27 years in 2020 and was considered a favourite to qualify for the Olympics.
“Covid hit our preparation really badly. There was no camp for a long time and Greco-Roman wrestlers can train only in camps. The camp was later organised for a short duration,” said national coach Hargobind Singh. “Some of our wrestlers, including Sunil, had Covid and it took a long time for them to get back to fitness.
“This tournament is a new start for the next Olympic cycle and to win three medals on the first day is impressive. We have good young talents coming up. The wrestlers who are winning medals here in non-Olympic categories will shift to Olympic weight divisions for the Asian Games trials,” said Singh.
Halakurki will thus shift to 60kg and Neeraj to 67kg. “The goal is to compete in the Paris Olympics and for that I have to move up. I wanted to make the shift for Tokyo also but injury prevented me from changing my weight category,” Halakurki said. “The Asian Games will be a big challenge and for that I need to win the trials. The medal here has boosted my confidence,” said the Karnataka wrestler who also won bronze in the 2020 edition.
Halakurki’s displayed powerful moves as he spectacularly scored two four-pointers against Ali Nourbakhsh of Iran after trailing 0-3, eventually winning his first bout 10-5. He lost to top seed Amangali Bekbolatov (Kaz) 10-1, but fought fiercely against Davaabandi Munkh Erdene of Mongolia (10-7) to win bronze.
Sunil Kumar was also in trouble in his first bout (quarter-final) against Japan’s Mataso Sumi before rallying to win 5-3. In the semi-final, he lost to Jalgasbay Berdimuratov (Uzb) before defeating Mongolia’s Batbayar Lutbayar 9-1 for bronze.
Neeraj was leading 4-0 against Tynar Sharshenbekov but the Kyrgyz wrestler turned the tables on him to win 10-4. Sharshenbekov eventually won gold in 63kg. Neeraj scored a fine 7-4 victory against Islomjon Bakhramov of Uzbekistan for bronze. “He is one of the most promising talents we have. His inexperience cost him the bout as he was over aggressive. He will learn from this experience,” said Hargobind Singh.