Vinesh, Anshu and Reetika save Indian wrestling the blushes by nailing Olympic quotas

Wrestlers who have qualified for the Paris 2024. SOurce: UWW X

India’s women wrestlers, Vinesh Phogat, Anshu Malik and Reetika Hooda, swelled the country’s Paris 2024 Olympic Games wrestling quotas to four with their efforts in the Asian Olympic qualifier in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Saturday. Coming a day after the nation’s men’s freestyle grapplers drew a blank, the women wrestlers helped India save the blushes.

India’s first World U-23 76kg champion, Reetika Hooda was the toast as she wrapped up the night with India’s third quota. She scored an untroubled 7-0 victory over Hui Tsz Chang (Chinese Taipei) in the semifinals. Earlier, she topped the four-wrestler Group A with wins against Enju Hwang (Korea), Davaanasan Enkh Amar (Mongolia) and Juan Wang (China).

Reetika was the busiest Indian wrestler on Saturday with four bouts. She faced a stiff challenge from Juan Wang in her third Group A league bout, opening an 8-0 lead in the first period but conceded points to the Chinese in the second. Juan Wang had scrambled to 6-8 when the clock ran out. Her coach challenged and conceded an extra point to the tiring Indian.

In the semifinals against Hui Tsz Chang, Reetika scored a pair of takedowns, then added a stepout for a 5-0 lead. It is much the same tactic in the second period to add another takedown to the tally as she kept Chang at bay and ran the clock out to secure the Olympic quota and help India close the day on a successful note.

Earlier, competing in the 50kg class since Antim Panghal had already secured a quota for India in the 53kg division, Vinesh posted a 10-0 victory over Laura Ganikyzy (Kazakhstan) in the semifinals. Leading 4-0 into the second period, Vinesh scored through a takedown and two gut wrenches to finish the bout.

Vinesh came through to the semifinals after wins against Miran Cheon (Korea) by technical superiority (10-0) in the qualification round and Samnang Dit (Cambodia) by fall in the opening minute in the quarterfinals. She took only a little longer to win her semifinal by technical superiority.

In the 57kg class, the 2021 World Championships medallist Anshu Malik marked her return from injury with comfortable victories over Kalmora Bilimbekova (Kyrgyzstan) in the quarterfinals and 2023 Asian Championships silver medallist Laylokhon Sobirova (Uzbekistan) in the semifinals to get India gets its second quota of the night and third overall.

There was heartbreak for Nisha in the 68kg division as she could not make it to the semifinals despite winning two of her three bouts in the Group B league. She beat Sik Gum Pak (North Korea) and Yelena Shalygina (Kazakhstan) but her loss by fall to Meerim Zhumanazarova (Kyrgyzstan) cost her a place in the semifinals.

In the 62kg class, World U-23 bronze medallist Mansi began with a 6-4 victory over Irina Kuznetsova (Kazakstan) with a takedown just over a minute from the end but lost 0-6 to Hyon Gyong Mum (North Korea) in the semifinals. 

On Friday, the men’s squad courted disappointment. After Sujeet Kalkal (65kg) and Deepak Punia (86kg) could not reach the venue in time for the weighing in, delayed in transit by the Dubai cloudburst and flooding, only Aman (57kg) made it to the semifinals before he lost by technical superiority to Gulomjon Abdullaev (Uzbekistan), ranked a rung below his World No. 2.

Jaideep (74kg) lost in the quarterfinals while Deepak lost his opening round in the 97kg class and Sumit lost in the 125kg quarterfinals. India’s men have won five Olympic medals since 2008 through Sushil Kumar (two), Yogeshwar Dutt, Ravi Kumar and Bajrang Punia. To have no representation in Paris will come as a shock to Indian wrestling community.