Winning Medals While Studying, Wrestling's New Star Anshu Malik Is Doing It All
Anshu Malik became the first Indian female wrestler to win a silver at the World Championships.
The greybeards will always hold forth a warning: Hold the celebrations until an athlete reaches the highest peak there is in his or her sport.
There is a great temptation to make Anshu Malik’s 57kg silver medal in the World Wrestling Championships in Oslo an exception to such a practical warning.
For the 20-year-old has shown a rare affinity for podium finishes. And, what’s more, she has now shown an ability to recover from the setback of an Olympic debut where victory was not only elusive but also out of her reach.
To have achieved this silver medal while balancing sport with education is an indication of the hunger that is an integral part of her countenance.
It is this fierce drive that has been a consistent thread in her career of eight years. While being aware of Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat’s places in Wrestling’s Hall of Fame, Anshu Malik has done well to stay away from distractions by retaining a sharp focus on being in the best competitive shape and frame of mind.
As PTI reported last year – when Anshu qualified for the Olympic Games – when she was 12, she was adamant that she be admitted to the Chaudhary Bharat Singh Memorial Sports School in Nidani in Haryana’s Jind district, to train as a wrestler. Her father, Dharamvir Malik, a former wrestler, saw merit in that argument very early on and backed her.
It now seems a natural progression that within four years, she moved from Nidani to find a home in Sports Authority of India, Lucknow, where she has been a regular part of the National Camps.
After winning a 60kg class silver in the Asian Cadet Championships, she claimed bronze in the World Cadet Championship in Tbilisi in 2016. She changed the colour of the medal to gold the following year in Athens.
Anshu did well to avert one of India’s long-standing issues of athletes losing their way after early success. It is a measure of how rooted she has been in her quest to earn greater glory that even after all these years of staying away from home, she has remained just as determined, if not more.
On the mat, she likes to dominate her opponent and is fearless, notwithstanding her rivals’ credentials. That approach has fetched her victories over World Champion Linda Morais (Canada) and European and U23 World Champion Grace Bullen (Norway) in the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome in January 2020.
She backed that up with a win over European Championships finalist Veronika Chumikova (Russia) in the 2020 World Cup in Serbia and another over former World Championship bronze medalist Evelina Nikolova (Bulgaria) in the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome in March 2021 to serve notice to the biggest names in her weight category.
A hamstring injury ahead of the Asian qualifiers for the Olympic Games was a deterrent but she did well to claim a berth in Tokyo 2020. Perhaps, she would have been best advised to skip the Asian Championships that followed so that she could focus on preparing for the Olympic Games, but she went ahead and won the continental gold medal.
Malik’s two defeats in the 57kg class in Tokyo 2020 ensured that it was not the most memorable Olympic Games debut.
She suffered a 2-8 loss to Belarus’ Iryna Kurachkina, the eventual silver medalist, and faced a 1-5 loss in the repechage to Russian Valeria Koblova, a 58kg silver medalist in Rio 2016. But she came away from Tokyo richer for the experience.
The 20-year-old licked her wounds for a while but picked herself up by training for the World Championships in her village even as she prepared for her BA examinations that entailed trips to Rohtak.
It reflected her determination to walk the dual track of academics and sport, emerging as an inspiration at a young age.
In Oslo, she made sure that she would not face such hiccups on debut in the senior World Championships, resuming her familiar visits to the podium, having missed out on only three times in 13 starts on the international stage. Such consistency is rather rare and announced her as a stand-out athlete, one with the right approach.
At just 20 years of age, Malik is already a good example of someone who not only has followed her dreams relentlessly but also, more importantly, enjoyed the journey.
Her single-minded focus on training and on remaining fit for competition has brought her rewards, ones that will spur her to raise the bar higher. As she has always done.
Now that she has become the first Indian woman finalist in the World Wrestling Championships, the road ahead may be more exciting. Surely, it will get more challenging as coaches and grapplers around the world pay greater attention to her methods on the mat.
If her journey thus far is any indication, she will be ready for the tougher challenges that await her.
She knows, more than anyone else, that her father Dharamvir lives his dreams through her. And, that alone is good enough fuel for Malik to keep her feet on the ground and head on her shoulders as she will train her guns on the Asian Games in China next year.
It is a good wager that her hunger for podium finishes will remain a strong suit when she travels to Hangzhou.
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