Friday, September 11, 2015

World Championship Woes: Spineless performance by Indian women wrestlers

Much was expected from the Indian women wrestling contingent at the 2015 UWW World Wrestling Championships, which concluded in Las Vegas, USA. The kind of performance our women grapplers have been dishing out in major international competitions in recent times has led to increasing expectations about a podium finish in Las Vegas. The Indian women grapplers had scooped up six medals comprising two gold, three silver and one bronze at the at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and two bronze medals at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

Probably, India’s biggest medal hope – Babita Kumari – who won a bronze medal in the 2012 World Championship in Canada along with her elder sister Geeta Phogat, thus halting a six-year medal drought in this marquee event since Alka Tomar bagged a bronze medal in the 2006 World Championship in Guangzhou. It has to be said that Indian women wrestling have come up in leaps and bounds only in the last five years or so. Sample this: the first Women’s World Wrestling Championship was held at Norway in 1987 and since 2005 the World Wrestling Championship for men and women were combined. Effectively, India never came close to winning a World Championship medal until Alka Tomar cornered glory in the 2006 before the Phogat sisters made a podium finish in 2012.

The rapid strides of our women wrestlers made us believe Babita was our best medal bet this time around in the 55 kg category. Playing in her third World Championship after missing the 2013 and 2014 editions, Babita was the lone female grappler to win three rounds before being shown the tournament exit door in the quarterfinals losing to a Chinese opponent. Barring Babita’s fighting showing, the rest of our grapplers came a cropper. Vinesh Phogat – cousin of Phogat sisters – the 2015 Asian Championship silver medallist, the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist and also the Asian Games bronze medallist – playing in her second World Championship failed to give a good account of herself against North Korea’s Kim Hyon-Gyong going down 0-4. The 2013 World Championship prequarterfinalist must be disappointed with her effort.

Another medal hope – Geeta Phogat (58 kg) – who won a bronze medal in the 2015 Asian Championship on return to competitive action only this year after a long injury-forced break – just couldn’t going in her opening round bout against Norway’s Grace Bullen – the 2012 World Championship bronze medallist struggled to find the form she is known for losing 0-4. 2015 Asian Championship bronze medallist and 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Lalita Sehrawat lost her first round bout to Japan’s Anri Kimura 0-7 in the 55 kg category.

What is more disappointing is that most our female grapplers did not even cross the first round hurdle. Barring Babita Kumari’s quarterfinal finish, Anita Tomar was the only grappler to go beyond the first round, losing in the second round to Colombia’s Sandra Roa 2-5 after defeating Azerbaijjan’s Nadya Mushka 9-1 in the opening round.

Vastly experienced Navjot Kaur also cut a poor figure, losing Alina Stadnik of Ukraine 0-8. Playing in her third World Championship, the 25-year-old grappler, who had won a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, put up a below par performance. Nikki completed India’s woes losing 0-7 to Japan’s Chiaki Iijima in the first round continuing the sequence of first round exits for a large chunk of our grapplers.

The appalling performance means India will have to wait till the 2017 World Wrestling Championship to be held in Paris, to add to her World Championship medal haul of three bronze medals. Until then, its’ back to the drawing board for the wrestlers, who would now need to put extra efforts so that they can redeem themselves with a power-packed performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics, which of course, is easier said than done.
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