Wrestling has yielded India more medals (56) at the Asian Games than any other sport barring athletics. And the Indian wrestling contingent will head to the Jakarta Palembang Games full of confidence after each of their 12 wrestlers won a medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in April this year.
India finished atop the wrestling medal standings in Gold Coast with a haul of 12 medals including five golds, three silvers and four bronzes.
However, the competition at the Asian Games is far stronger than in the Commonwealth Games and a repeat of the Gold Coast performance will be difficult.
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Yogeshwar Dutt was the only gold medal winner in Incheon four years ago but he has since retired. His protégé Bajrang Punia, however, has been in red-hot form this season, having won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games as well as at the Tbilisi Grand Prix and at the Yasar Dogu International in Istanbul last month.
He will be a strong favourite for the gold in the 65kg freestyle category if he keeps up his purple patch in Jakarta.
Bajrang Punia has been in fine form so far this year. (HT Photo)
Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar is also the reigning Commonwealth Games champion in the 74kg freestyle category and will look to improve his rather poor Asian Games record, having won only one bronze medal in 2006.
Sumit Malik, who won the 125kg freestyle gold in Gold Coast, will be vying to add an Asian Games gold in his kitty. Sandeep Tomar (57kg), Pawan Kumar (86kg), and Mausam Khatri (97kg) are the other Indian freestyle wrestlers in fray in Jakarta.
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Vinesh Phogat (50kg) was the only Indian in the women’s category to win gold at the Commonwealth Games and she will be keen to improve upon her bronze medal from Incheon.
However, the biggest gold medal hope for India will likely be the 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik (62kg). She claimed a bronze in Gold Coast but is still searching for a first medal at the Asian Games.
Sakshi Malik will be keen to add an Asian Games medal to her tally. (HT Photo)
Pinki, who won gold at the Yasar Dogu International in the 55kg category last month, will look to continue her form into Jakarta and get a podium finish. Other Indian women in the Indian contingent include Pooja Dhanda (57kg), Divya Kakran (68kg), and Kiran Bishnoi (72kg).
India has sent a six-member team in the Greco-Roman category, which is part of the Olympics programme but not the Commonwealth Games, but only Hardeep Singh (97kg) has a realistic hope for a medal.
Japan, Iran, and South Korea have traditionally been the strongest wrestling teams in the Asian Games, having shared the bulk of the medals between them.
They are followed by the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan when it comes to claiming medals on the wrestling mat.
Apart from those six, no other country has gone into double figure of wrestling gold medals.
India is just one shy of their tenth and with their strong contingent in Jakarta, it should be a matter of when not if they will become the seventh nation with a double figure gold medal haul by the end of August.
First Published: Aug 10, 2018 09:36 IST