The year 2021 has been full of ups and downs for Indian wrestling. On one hand, a veteran like Sushil Kumar got trapped in the murder case. At the same time some new stars also appeared.
The implication of Sushil Kumar in the murder case was a blow to the reputation of Indian wrestling. But the rise of Ravi Dahiya in the Olympics and the expected success of Bajrang Punia at the Tokyo Games prevented Indian wrestling from going into the abyss in 2021. Vinesh Phogat’s dream of winning an Olympic medal could not be fulfilled again, but this year Indian wrestling also got a new heroine in the form of Anshu Malik, who created history by reaching the finals of the World Championships.
Indian wrestling hero Sushil was behind bars in Tihar Jail for the murder of his fellow wrestler Sagar Dhankar when he had to prepare for the Tokyo Games. This was a big setback for Indian wrestling. The way 38-year-old Sushil, the only Indian wrestler to have won two Olympic medals and a world title, played a game of hide and seek with the police before being arrested, it only exposed the wrong face of Indian wrestling.
Amidst this gloom, there was a ray of hope in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Bajrang and Vinesh were considered strong medal contenders but it was Ravi Dahiya who made a strong comeback after going down 2-9 against Nurislam Sanayev of Kazakhstan in the semi-finals. Emerged as a new star in wrestling. He could not repeat his success in the final against Russia’s Javur Uguayev, but the Olympic silver medal made him an overnight star.
Bajrang was considered a contender for the gold medal but he had to be content with the bronze medal. He had barely lost in any tournament after winning the bronze medal at the World Championships 2019. Bajrang was expected to reach the final despite a tough competition in his weight category 65kg. He later revealed that he had injured his knee during a tournament in Russia. Despite this, winning the medal only increased his prestige. With two medals in wrestling, India continued to win medals in this sport from the 2008 Olympics to Tokyo.
Vinesh, a strong contender for the medal in the women’s section, was disappointed. This was the second time that his dream of winning an Olympic medal could not be fulfilled. She was eliminated after losing to Vanessa Kalazinskaya of Belarus. Not only this, he was also suspended by the national federation for showing indiscipline during the games. He had reportedly refused to practice with his compatriots. After apologizing, however, he was let off with a warning.
Meanwhile, Anshu Malik left his mark. The 20-year-old wrestler from Haryana qualified for the Tokyo Games by winning the senior Asian title but could not do much there due to lack of experience. But she was ready to prove herself and became the first Indian female wrestler to reach the final at the Oslo World Championships. She tried all her bets against two-time Olympic medalist Helen Marolis of America, but in the end she had to settle for a silver medal. Sarita Mor also won a bronze medal at the World Championships.