Though wrestling has always been a popular sport in India, consistent international success has only started coming in since the turn of the 20th century.
While KD Jadhav won India their maiden wrestling Olympic medal, a bronze, at Helsinki 1952, it took India another 56 years to clinch a second podium finish at the Summer Games. Sushil Kumar ended the drought by winning the bronze medal at Beijing 2008.
The likes of Sakshi Malik, Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang Punia and Ravi Kumar Dahiya have since ensured India’s rapid rise in the sport by winning medals regularly at the Asian and Commonwealth Games. Indian grapplers have also returned with at least one medal from every Olympic Games held since 2008.
Here, we glance through the best amateur wrestlers who have done India proud on the international arena.
Hailing from a small village of Goleshwar in Maharashtra, wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav became India’s first individual Olympic medallist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
KD Jadhav’s journey to the Olympic podium, however, wasn’t easy. KD Jadhav had to run from pillar to post for funding after failing to win a medal on his Olympic debut at London 1948.
KD Jadhav crowd-funded his trip to the Helsinki Games where he lost to eventual gold medallist Shohachi Ishii of Japan before eventually settling for bronze.
KD Jadhav was determined to upgrade the colour of his medal at Melbourne 1956 but a serious knee injury cut his ambition short.
Inspired by KD Jadhav’s heroics, Udey Chand, in 1961, became the first Indian wrestler to win a world championship medal - bronze in the 67kg category.
In the following year at the Asian Games, Udey Chand competed in the 70kg freestyle and Greco-Roman events and won silver medals in both competitions.
Udey Chand represented India at three Olympic Games between 1960 to 1968 but could not finish on the podium.
Sakshi Malik and the Phogat sisters are familiar names today but it was Alka Tomar who laid the foundation for women’s wrestling in India.
Alka Tomar won the gold medal at the Commonwealth championships in 2005 but created history the following year at the world championships.
Alka Tomar, at the age of 20, won bronze in the 59kg division to become the first Indian woman to win a medal at the wrestling world championships. It was also India’s first world championships medal in 39 years. Alka Tomar also won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Wrestling’s popularity in India sky-rocketed with Sushil Kumar’s 66kg freestyle bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Sushil Kumar followed it up by becoming the first Indian wrestler to win the world championships gold medal in 2010. A silver at the London Olympics in 2012 then made him the first-ever Indian athlete to win two individual Olympic medals in any sport.
Sushil Kumar is the only Indian wrestling world champion to date and is also a three-time Commonwealth Games champion.
Yogeshwar Dutt’s bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics complimented Sushil’s feat as India found two heroes making their mark on the international stage.
The way Dutt won his medal at London 2012, despite suffering a grievous eye injury during the event, has been an inspiration to many Indian wrestlers. He has also acted as a mentor to future generations of wrestlers, including another Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia.
Yogeshwar Dutt is a two-time Commonwealth Games champion and won Asian Games gold in 2014 in the 65kg category.
While Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat were India’s celebrated wrestlers going into the Rio 2016, Sakshi Malik, competing in the 58kg weight division, quietly went about her job and became the first Indian woman’s wrestler to win a medal at Olympic Games.
Sakshi Malik won gold at the Commonwealth championships in 2017 and a bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games before a series of injuries disrupted her career.
After missing the Tokyo Olympics, Sakshi Malik seems to be slowly regaining her lost touch and will be competing at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Though Geeta Phogat hasn’t won a medal at Olympics, she has the distinction of being the first Indian woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics in 2012.
Though she failed to make a lasting mark at London 2012, Geeta Phogat made a comeback after the disappointment and bagged a bronze medal at the world championships in the 55kg weight class later that same year.
Geeta Phogat also became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
While Geeta Phogat’s gold was one of the highlights of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010, her younger sister Babita Phogat wasn’t far behind with a silver in the 51kg category.
After failing to make the cut for London 2012, Babita won bronze at the world championships in September and went on to represent India at the 2016 Rio Games.
Babita also won a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Following in the footsteps of older cousins Geeta and Babita Phogat, Vinesh Phogat has been the flagbearer of Indian women’s wrestling in recent years.
Vinesh has also won gold at Asian Games in 2018 and is a two-time Commonwealth Games champion. The 2019 world championships bronze medallist also has eight Asian championships medals to her name.
Vinesh Phogat represented India at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics but could not win any medal.
With a silver in 2018 and a bronze each in 2013 and 2019, Bajrang Punia is the only Indian to have won three world championships medals till date.
Bajrang Punia won the bronze in 65kg at Tokyo 2020 last year and is the reigning Commonwealth and Asian Games champion in his division. Bajrang Punia also won silver at the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2014 and is a two-time Asian champion.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya
Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Ravi Kumar Dahiya is also the reigning Asian Champion. Dahiya has won the continental title three times in a row - something no Indian wrestler has managed before.
The Haryana grappler has also won a world championships bronze in 2019. Ravi Kumar Dahiya, 24, is still young and has the raw ability to outdo most of his peers from the list if he continues to develop at a similar pace.
Best Indian Wrestlers