Silver, silver burning bright: Despite defeat to Helen Maroulis in the final, Anshu’s feat is pathbreakingOctober 8, 2021
As Anshu Malik lay on the mat disconsolate, holding her left elbow and shoulder after the loss by fall against Helen Maroulis in the women’s 57 kg final in the world wrestling championships at Oslo, her American opponent commiserated her, patting her back. Though the 20-year-old Indian had lost the bout—missing out on becoming India’s first woman world wrestling champion, and the second from her country after Sushil Kumar—she had already made history.
No Indian woman had ever reached the summit clash of a World Wrestling Championship, no one has even come close; even in the men’s category, just five have progressed this far into the Worlds. The journey, the heartbreaks and setbacks she endured to reach where she did, is a heartwarming narrative in itself.
The mental agony of defeat in the repechage in Tokyo lingered. She endured physical pain too. According to father Dharamveer Malik, she had carried an elbow injury, which she had sustained in Tokyo, into the tournament, besides injuring her knee in the quarterfinals. Hence, he says, “This silver is like a gold medal for us.”
“Anshu fought bravely. Despite suffering an elbow injury in Tokyo Olympics, she trained at the village followed by training in the national camp. We hope her elbow injury has not worsened,” he adds.
Her mother Manju, who watched the final without batting an eyelid, concurs with her husband: “Silver bhi gold ke jaisa hai.” In the next few days, she would be bust preparing her favourite sweet, ‘gond ke ladoo’. “It’s good for muscles recovery and she can have as many she likes,” she says.
Her opponent in the final, Haroulis, was a big fish—champion in Rio and a bronze medallist in Tokyo. The youngster, who has never faced the seasoned American in her short International career, began with confidence by thwarting the American’s attempts to grab her neck. She survived a close leg attack too in the opening exchanges.
Anshu tried to tire her adversary, which worked as the Haroulis received a passive play warning. She failed to score and Anshu got her first point of the final. The first half ended with Anshu leading 1-0.
But the American changed her strategy in the second. She attempted gripping Anshu’s injured left elbow and succeeded, notching two points within 45 seconds. She then snatched Anshu’s shoulder, scoring two more points. Then came the sucker punch, as she pulled her shoulder fully to the mat, resulting in Haroulis’s win by fall.
Coach Jagdeesh Sheoran, who had initiated Ansu into wrestling at the CBSM Sports School at Nidani in 2012, had expected her to be quicker in the second half. “I expected Anshu to be a bit quicker in the second half but the American was quick to attack her left elbow and once she got hold of it, it was tough for Anshu to make a comeback. If not for the injury, she could have wriggled out of that grip and survived the fall,” he explained.
But the silver reflects the rapid, and decisive, strides she had made in her sport. It was not just a one-off performance. The last year has seen Anshu scoring wins over the likes the of world championship bronze medallist and eventual Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Evelina Nikolova of Bulgaria in the Mattio Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome apart from beating two-time European bronze medallist Alyona Kolesnik of Azerbaijan and European bronze medallist Veronika Chumikova.
The confidence of the youngster from Nidani, Sheoran believes, will skyrocket. “In the last 20 months, she has scored six wins with a margin of ten points and the way she scored wins over Linda Morris and Grace Bullen early in her career gave her a lot of confidence. During the 11-6 win over Evelina Nikolova at Rome prior to Tokyo, Anshu made her tire and then went for leg and side attacks. Wins against such wrestlers make her more confident in trying the moves she has mastered in practice. The coming months will see a different Anshu,” adds Sheoran.
Bronze for more
On the sidelines, 25-year-old Haryana wrestler Sarita Mor won bronze in the women’s 59kg category with an 8-2 win over Sweden’s Johanna Lindborg and became the sixth Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the world championships.
“The more our wrestlers win medals at world championships, the hungrier they will be for further success. Seeing Anshu create history here and Sarita winning the bronze means our wrestlers are not lesser opponents. We will work to iron out the flaws. We need more training and these medals will add to our confidence a lot,” said national coach Kuldeep Malik.