Pankaj hopes to fulfil uncle’s dream on second dig
The Haryana wrestler dominated a high-quality field to qualify for World Championships in Belgrade
It's easy to forget that Pankaj Malik has already been to a senior World Championships. It was an unremarkable outing anyway, with Malik crashing out in the second round after a 10-0 humbling at the hands of Turkey’s Suleyman Atli.
On Tuesday though, Malik was hardly the grappler who had made a hasty exit in Oslo a year back. He blazed through a quality field and finished off the 2019 World Championships bronze medallist Rahul Aware (12-2) in a one-sided contest after Aware had edged past talented Aman Sehrawat in a nail-biting finish.
Malik imposed himself on Aware in the opening minute itself, effecting a sneaky takedown. The three-time Asian bronze medallist, perhaps too exhausted from his 9-8 victory over young Sehrawat, had no answers to Malik’s relentless attacks and caved in in front of a partisan crowd.
The result means Malik, who competed in the 57kg class at previous Worlds, now has the chance to undo the embarrassment of an early exit in the 61kg category. The World Championships begin in Belgrade on Sept 10.
Olympics silver medallist Ravi Dahiya, who had skipped the competition last year, will return to his pet 57kg class. The reigning Commonwealth Games (CWG) champion is currently training in Vladikavkaz in Russia. Dahiya and fellow CWG champions Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Deepak Punia (86kg) were exempted from trials by the WFI.
Dahiya’s return pushed Malik to the higher weight division, and he is determined to make it count.
"Qualifying for my second Worlds is a great honour. Last time, I couldn't go deep in the competition as I played through an injury, but this time, I’ll try my best to come home with a medal," he said.
Malik, who hails from Bhainswal village in Sonepat, was introduced to wrestling by his maternal uncle, Sahab Singh, a former national-level wrestler. While Malik’s father and other uncles were also interested in wrestling, it was at Singh’s insistence that a young Malik was sent to Guru Shamsher Singh akhada in his village.
“Whatever I have managed to become is due to my uncle. He was a fairly good wrestler and was part of the national camp too, but injuries cut short his career. I want to fulfil his dreams and make him proud,” Malik, who now trains at the famed Chhatrasal Stadium, informed.
Understandably, the likes of Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt have had a great influence on Malik. “Growing up in Chhatrasal, it is impossible not to be consumed by the aura of Sushil and Yogeshwar. Now, there’s Ravi too. I have always observed such champions and tried to learn from them. Even Rahul (Aware) who I beat today is a very fine wrestler and I have watched his bouts quite closely,” the 26-year-old Indian Air Force sergeant added.
Malik plans to stick to the non-Olympic 61kg division for a few tournaments but will step up to the 65kg class for Asian Games and Olympics qualifiers. That will put him in Bajrang’s crosshairs, a possibility for which Malik claims he is ready for.
“When I step on the mat, I don’t care who my opponent is. I trust my skills and preparation. Whatever happens on the mat is a function of how you train. Moreover, having grown up with wrestling legends at Chhatrasal and having trained with them, I don’t get nervous because of my opponents anymore,” he signed off.
Men’s team for Worlds:
Weight Category Name
57 Kg. Ravi Kumar
61 Kg. Pankaj
65 Kg. Bajrang
70 Kg. Naveen
74 Kg. Sagar Jaglan
79 Kg. Deepak
86 Kg. Deepak Punia
92 Kg. Vicky
97 Kg. Viky
125 Kg. Dinesh
GRECO ROMAN STYLE
Weight Category Name
55 Kg. Arjun Halakurki
60 Kg. Gyanender
63 Kg. Neeraj
67 Kg. Ashu
72 Kg. Vikas
77 Kg. Sachin
82 Kg. Harpreet Singh
87 Kg. Sunil Kumar
97 Kg. Deepanshu
130 Kg. Satish