Teenagers Sonam Malik, Anshu Malik clinch Olympic wrestling berths

Sonam Malik, who competed in the 62kg category at the Asian Olympic qualifiers, has ended Rio 2016 bronze medallist Sakshi Malik’s hopes of making it to Tokyo 2020.

By Naveen Peter

Teenaged Indian women wrestlers Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik will join Vinesh Phogat at the Tokyo Olympics after their commendable performance at the Asian wrestling Olympic qualifiers on Saturday.

Anshu and Sonam's good work in Almaty mean India will field at least six wrestlers at Tokyo 2020. Vinesh Phogat (53kg), along with Ravi Kumar Dahiya (57kg, freestyle) Bajrang Punia (65kg, freestyle) and Deepak Punia (86kg, freestyle) had won their Olympic quotas at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships.

While the Olympic quotas belong to the nation, the Wrestling Federation of India’s policy states that the quota winners themselves will represent India at the Summer Games.

This ends Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik’s hopes for Tokyo 2020. Sonam had beaten Sakshi at the national trials to earn her place at the qualifiers in the 62kg category.

At the Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Anshu Malik dominated the 57kg division with wins on technical superiority to earn an Olympic quota.

Anshu blanked South Korea’s Um Ji-Eun 10-0 in the opening round and won 10-0 against local hope Emma Tissina to make her way into the semi-finals.

The 19-year-old Anshu then beat the 2018 Youth Olympics silver medallistShokhida Akhmedova of Uzbekistan 12-2 to secure her Tokyo quota.

The feat was even more impressive considering Anshu reached Almaty in the wee hours of Saturday.

“I was above weight and we reached Almaty just seven hours before weigh-in,” Anshu Malik told United Wrestling. “I was running at the airport in Tashkent to reduce weight. I just wanted to do it, qualify myself for Tokyo.”

Later, the Indian youngster lost out to Mongolia’s Khongorzul Boldsaikhan 7-4 in the gold medal bout.

In the 62kg weight category, Sonam Malik rallied from a six-point deficit and beat Kazakhstan’s Ayaulym Kassymova 9-6 to book her place at the Tokyo Games. Sonam, 18, is the youngest Indian woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics.

Sonam started her qualifiers well with a 5-2 win over China’s Jia Long and then blanked Hsin Ping Pai of Chinese Taipei 11-0 for a win in technical superiority.

But in the semis, Sonam was taken by surprise as Kassymova raced to a 6-0 lead in the opening 24 seconds. However, the Indian staged a remarkable comeback.

Sonam limped for most part of the bout after injuring her knee in the opening move. Nevertheless, she constantly went for Kassymova’s legs and inflicted takedowns in a controlled manner to pocket her points. 

The 26-year-old Ayaulym Kassymova soon lost her grip on the tie as Sonam Malik made inroads with her powerful attacks and wrapped up the bout with a takedown.

“The Kazakh girl was a very good wrestler and I was trailing 0-6, but I was confident of winning even after that,” Sonam Malik said. “This is incredible!”

Later, Sonam pulled out of the final given the injury she sustained in the semis.

Meanwhile, Seema Bisla (50kg), Nisha Dahiya (68kg) and Pooja Sihag (76kg) failed to make the cut following their losses at the Asian qualifying meet.

Nisha Dahiya went on to clinch the bronze in her weight division with an 8-0 victory by fall over Hyeonyeong Park of South Korea. Pooja Sihag too won a bronze medal.