India wins 3 Greco-Roman bronze medals at Asian Wrestling Championships

The Greco-Roman category has been a weak link in Indian wrestling and the occasional international success has proved a false dawn. Men’s freestyle dominates in India and, along with women’s wrestling, secured seven spots at the Tokyo Olympics. Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia won silver and bronze respectively. No GR wrestlers qualified for Tokyo. This is also one of the reasons why the discipline is often last in terms of priority when it comes to installations, exhibition tours, etc.

On the first day of the Asian Championships in Ulaanbaatar, the Greco-Roman wrestlers provided a timely reminder that they had the potential to shine on the international stage. Arjun Halakurki (55kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg) and Neeraj (63kg) won bronze medals, giving the Indian campaign a big boost with competitions in five more Greco categories, freestyle and female wrestling to follow.

Kumar showed promise on the international stage with gold at the Asian Under-23 Championships in 2018 and 2019. He became India’s first gold medalist in Greco-Roman at the U23 Championships. Asia after 27 in 2020 and was considered a favorite to qualify for the Olympics.

“Covid has hit our preparation really badly. There was no camp for a long time and Greco-Roman wrestlers can only train in camps. The camp was then organized for a short duration,” national coach Hargobind Singh said. “Some of our wrestlers, including Sunil, had Covid and it took them a long time to get back into shape.

“This tournament is a new start for the next Olympic cycle and winning three medals on the first day is impressive. We have some good young talent coming up. Wrestlers who medal here in non-Olympic weight classes will move up to the Olympic weight classes for the Asian Games Trials,” Singh said.

Halakurki will thus increase to 60kg and Neeraj to 67kg. “The goal is to compete in the Paris Olympics and for that I have to progress. I also wanted to make the trip to Tokyo, but an injury prevented me from changing weight classes,” Halakurki said. Asian Games will be a big challenge and for that I have to win the trials. The medal here has boosted my confidence,” said the wrestler from Karnataka who also won bronze in the 2020 edition.

Halakurki displayed powerful moves as he dramatically scored two fours against Iranian Ali Nourbakhsh after leading 0-3, eventually winning his first bout 10-5. He lost to top seed Amangali Bekbolatov (Kaz) 10-1 but battled hard against Mongolia’s Davabandi Munkh Erdene (10-7) to claim bronze.

Sunil Kumar also struggled in his first fight (quarter-final) against Japan’s Mataso Sumi before rallying to win 5-3. In the semi-final he lost to Jalgasbay Berdimuratov (Uzb) before beating Mongolian Batbayar Lutbayar 9-1 for bronze.

Neeraj led 4-0 against Tynar Sharshenbekov but the Kyrgyz wrestler turned things around to win 10-4. Sharshenbekov eventually won gold at 63 kg. Neeraj picked up a fine 7-4 victory over Uzbekistan’s Islomjon Bakhramov for bronze. “He is one of the most promising talents we have. His inexperience cost him the fight because he was too aggressive. He will learn from this experience,” said Hargobind Singh.

Robert J. King