She will be first up against Mongolia’s Bolortuya Khurelkhuu — an Asian Championships silver medallist — in the opener. A victory will pit her against former World champion, Bulgaria’s Taybe Mustafa Yusein, in the quarters. Sonam, who has dethroned Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik as the country’s numero uno grappler in her preferred weight category, will be wary of her recurring knee injury which has troubled her in the months leading up to the Games.
India’s real challenge in wrestling is expected to come from Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, and a dark horse in Ravi Dahiya. Vinesh will be competing in her second Olympics. She made a painful, injury-forced exit from Rio 2016, but is now entering the competition as the World No.1 and top seed in the women’s 53kg category.
Vinesh has been unbeatable this year, having participated in four tournaments and winning the gold in all. She is the first woman wrestler to win gold medals at the 2018 CWG and Asian Games and has seamlessly transitioned from 48kg division to 53kg for the Olympics. Having crisscrossed Europe — Poland, Estonia and Hungary — to prepare for the Olympics, the 2019 Nur-Sultan World Championships bronze medallist will be looking to put behind Rio’s disappointment with a gold-winning effort at the Games.
Vinesh’s weight category boasts of a world-class field, but it’s her big-ticket match-up with Japan’s two-time World champion Mayu Mukaida which everyone will be waiting for. The two are unlikely to meet before the final.
Bajrang (men’s freestyle 65kg), on the other hand, will be heading into his debut Olympic Games as the World No. 2, seeded second behind Russia’s Rashidov Gadzhimurad. Bajrang, who along with Ravi (57kg)and Deepak Punia (86kg), was training in Russia’s Vladikavkaz city for the Olympics, will have to hit the ground running against a battery of heavyweights in the form of World champion Rashidov, Kazakhstan’s twotime Worlds medallist Daulet Niyazbekov and Azerbaijan’s Olympic medallist and three-time World champion Haji Aliyev, among others.
While Bajrang has been one of the most consistent performers since becoming the CWG and Asian Games champion in 2018, his recent knee injury, suffered during the Ali Aliyev invitational tournament in Russia in June, has raised a question mark over his Olympic campaign.
Rivals would certainly be looking to get hold of Bajrang’s injured knee and go for an all-out leg attack against him. But, a champion wrestler like Bajrang knows how to tame his hunters.
Ravi, a technically and tactically-sound grappler, has shone bright on the world stage with back-to-back Asian titles in 2020 and 2021. A product of Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi, Ravi would fancy himself winning a bronze through the repechage route.
Deepak has been seeded second in the competition but his build-up to the Olympics hasn’t been as smooth as he would have liked. He suffered a left elbow injury which forced him to miss the Poland Open, the last tournament before the Olympics. In the women’s, Seema Bisla (50kg) and Anshu Malik (57kg) are expected to create a couple of upsets but their lack of big-event experience could work against them.