India’s wrestling medals at the Olympics - From KD Jadhav to Sakshi Malik

India have won seven Olympic medals in wrestling. Sushil Kumar won the medal twice. Sakshi Malik is the only woman to have bagged a wrestling medal.
By Rahul Venkat

Having accounted for seven Olympic medals, wrestling is India’s second-most successful sport at the Summer Games after hockey.

The first Indian wrestler to win an Olympic medal was KD Jadhav, who won bronze way back in the 1952 Helsinki Games.

Though India’s next triumph came 56 years later with Sushil Kumar’s bronze at Beijing 2008, India have won at least one wrestling medal in each of the last four Olympics.

Here’s how the Indian wrestlers did it.

KD Jadhav - Bronze medal at 1952 Helsinki Olympics in men’s freestyle 57kg

KD Jadhav became India’s first individual Olympic medallist post independence when he won bronze in the men’s bantamweight (57kg) freestyle at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

A man with a passion for wrestling since childhood, KD Jadhav’s excellent technique won him several national titles. He made his Olympic debut at London 1948 where he finished in sixth place.

KD Jadhav was initially not a part of the Indian Olympic squad for the 1952 edition, but he defeated the national champion Niranjan Das thrice to convince the authorities and get selected.

After crowdfunding his expenses for the Olympics, KD Jadhav won his first three bouts before he fell to Rashid Mammadbeyov in the fifth round. The fourth round was a bye.

With barely any rest, KD Jadhav began his medal round bout against eventual gold-medallist Japan’s Shohachi Ishii, but soon conceded due to sheer exhaustion.

However, KD Jadhav had done enough to win the bronze which ensured independent India’s first individual Olympic medal.

Sushil Kumar - Bronze medal at Beijing 2008 in men’s freestyle 66kg

Sushil Kumar sacrificed a lot to make his wrestling dream come true and first created waves with bronze at the 2003 Asian Championships.

He made his Olympic debut at Athens 2004 but bowed out after losing both his bouts in the elimination round of the 60kg division.

Sushil Kumar then won bronze at the 2006 Asian Games and 2007 Asian Championships before heading to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Having shifted to the 66kg, Sushil Kumar began with a loss to Andriy Stadnik of Ukraine. However, with Stadnik’s progress to the final, Sushil Kumar earned a second chance to win a medal through the repechage rounds.

Sushil Kumar outwrestled USA’s Doug Schwab and Belarus’ Albert Batyrov before beating Kazakhstan’s Leonid Spiridonov in a tough match to bring home India’s first wrestling Olympic medal in 56 years.

Sushil Kumar - Silver medal at London 2012 in men’s freestyle 66kg

Four years after his bronze in Beijing, Sushil Kumar clinched a silver medal at London 2012, thus becoming the first Indian to win two individual Olympic medals.

Till date, he is the only Indian with multiple medals in individual sports at the Summer Games.

Heading into London 2012, Sushil Kumar had established himself as India’s best wrestler - winning golds at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and Asian Championships.

However, a shoulder injury meant that he was out of action for a few months before the London Olympics and made it through only at the eleventh hour, after winning a qualifying tournament.

Sushil Kumar, though, was overweight just before the Games and faced a race against time to be within the limit - an effort which took a toll on him both physically and mentally.

The Indian wrestler, though, recovered in time to beat reigning Olympic champion Ramazan Sahin in his first bout.

With the other wrestlers in the team constantly massaging his body to get him ready for bouts, Sushil Kumar won his quarter-final and semi-final matches.

After battling a stomach bug a night before the final, Sushil Kumar could not hold up against Japan’s Tatuhiro Yonemitsu and settled for the silver medal. It made him the first Indian to win two individual Olympic medals.

Sushil Kumar won silver at London 2012.
Picture by 2012 Getty Images

Yogeshwar Dutt - Bronze medal at London 2012 in men’s freestyle 60kg

The dream of winning an Olympic medal took root in Yogeshwar Dutt after he watched the legendary Leander Paes claim the tennis bronze at Atlanta 1996.

Yogeshwar Dutt’s village in Haryana was popular for its wrestling culture and as a youngster, he chose to pursue the sport to realise his ambitions.

The Indian wrestler made his Olympic debut at Athens 2004 and also made the squad for Beijing 2008, but was knocked out before the medal rounds in both.

The disappointments, though, only made him more determined for London 2012.

Yogeshwar Dutt battled knee and back injuries to make the cut for the London Olympics and won his first bout before falling to world champion Besik Kudukhov in the Round of 16.

Kudukhov, though, progressed to the final, which gave Yogeshwar Dutt another medal opportunity through the repechage rounds.

Despite an eye injury, Yogeshwar Dutt went on to win three bouts in a row to win the Olympic bronze and fulfill his lifelong dream.

Sakshi Malik - Bronze medal at Rio 2016 in women’s freestyle 58kg

Sakshi Malik gave women’s wrestling in India a new meaning with her bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Prior to the Games, Sakshi Malik was barely in the frame to make the Olympic cut as she wrestled in the same weight category as Commonwealth Games champion Geeta Phogat.

A turn of fate, though, handed Sakshi Malik a chance to make the squad for the Rio Olympics.

Geeta Phogat had chosen to forfeit a bout at an Olympic qualifier, which led to her suspension and Sakshi Malik was promptly slotted in for the final Olympic qualifying event.

The then 24-year-old Sakshi Malik made it count - making the final to earn her Olympic quota for Rio 2016.

The Indian wrestler won her first two bouts before going down to eventual silver-medallist Valeria Koblova of ROC in the last eight.

In the repechage rounds, Sakshi Malik made the most of her second chance yet again and won her two bouts to bring home the bronze medal - a first for women’s wrestling in India.

Ravi Kumar Dahiya – Silver medal at Tokyo 2020 in men’s freestyle 57kg

Ravi Kumar Dahiya is another sporting great from the state of Haryana to bring home an Olympic medal.

With two successive Asian championship golds and a bronze at the world championship, Ravi Kumar headed to the Tokyo Olympics as the fourth seed in the 57kg freestyle category.

The wrestler from Sonipat got off to a flying start in Tokyo. He trounced Colombia’s Oscar Tigeros (13-2) and Bulgaria’s Georgi Vangelov (14-4) by technical superiority to cruise into the semi-final.

However, the place in the final almost slipped out of Ravi Kumar’s grip after Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev opened a huge 9-2 lead.

But the Indian wrestler clawed back to 9-5 by pushing the Kazakh out of the mat. With only 50 seconds remaining, Ravi Kumar executed a takedown and pinned Sanayev to win the bout by fall and advance to the final.

He lost to two-time world champion Zaur Uguev of ROC in the final and settled for a silver medal.

Bajrang Punia - Bronze medal at Tokyo 2020 in men's freestyle 65kg

Two-time Asian champion, the 2018 Asian Games gold-medallist and World Championships silver-medallist Bajrang Punia added an Olympic medal to his kitty with bronze in his Games debut at Tokyo 2020.

Bajrang Punia, seeded second in the men's 65kg category, beat Krygyzstan's Ernazar Akmataliev and Morteza Ghiasi of Iran in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals, respectively before falling to thrice world champion Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan.

However, he recovered the next day to beat Kazakhstan's world No.3 Daulet Niyazbekov 8-0 and took home the bronze medal.