Wrestler Anshu Malik’s silver at World Cup fulfils her father’s dream

Anshu, who wrestles in the 57 kg class, won a silver at the World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia. Malik senior couldn’t hold back tears.

In the 1990s, Dharamveer Malik was a regular on the Indian team that competed at the junior level in international wrestling competitions. The biggest event the former 76 kg age-group national champion would get to compete in was the Cadet World Championship of 1995, but he’d return without a podium finish. Five years later, he’d be forced to retire after a knee injury.

On Wednesday, his daughter Anshu, who wrestles in the 57 kg class, won a silver at the World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia. Malik senior couldn’t hold back tears.

“My daughter has fulfilled my dream of winning an international medal,” says an emotional Dharamveer, now 45. “I had to quit wrestling because of the knee injury and never won an international medal. Though my elder brother Pawan Kumar won the gold medal at the SAFF Games, to see Anshu win a medal at a World Cup surpasses all our achievements and that’s what every parent hopes for.”

Initially, the native of Nidani village in Haryana’s Jind had thought his son Shubham would become a wrestler. Anshu had been more inclined towards academics and was a class topper. But it wasn’t until she accompanied Shubham to a training session at school that she developed an interest in the sport. Within four years, she had started showing results, as she pocketed a silver medal at the Asian Junior Wrestling Championships in Taiwan in 2016. It was followed by a bronze at the World Cadet event in the same year.

But the 19-year-old’s success meant that Dharamveer would have to quit his job at the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), abandoning any scope of earning a pension, to ensure he could relocate to Lucknow or Sonepat – wherever Anshu was training – just to provide her additional support.

“We’d stay at rented accommodations and I’d cook for her to make sure she focuses only on her wrestling,” he recalls.

Anshu’s first foray into the sport started at the CBSM Sports School in her village, under the tutelage of Jagdish Sheoran, who has coached over 20 international wrestlers. But in gthe beginning, despite the fascination for wrestling, Anshu paid greater attention to her academic pursuits.

“She would spend a lot of time studying, so we came up with a plan to have shorter training sessions for her,” Sheoran says. “Wrestling is in her blood, and I could see that she was learning the moves pretty quickly.”

By 2017, she’d win gold at the World Cadet Championships in Athens.

“That win changed her as a wrestler,” Sheoran adds. “She changed mentally too, and she started to spend more time in training, devoting over six hours to training daily.”

But it wasn’t just in the junior circuit where she was making waves. After winning the senior national title last year, Anshu pulled off wins over 2019 World Champion Linda Morais of Canada and two-time European Champion Grace Bullen of Norway – that too on her senior international debut in the Ranking Series Mattio Pellicone in Italy. Then there were double wins over 2018 World Championship bronze medallist Pooja Dhanda in the trials for the Italian event and the 2019 Asian Wrestling Championship.

These wins were not flukes. Anshu, by nature a highly-aggressive grappler, has developed a more rounded game over the past year.

Women’s national coach Kuldeep Malik opines: “Initially when she joined the senior camp, she would think only about attacking. So, we had to work on her defence to stop her from losing points on leg attacks. But she has picked it up very quickly over the last year. Her biggest advantage has been her fearless approach, even in trials. And she can win a quota for the Olympics and maybe a medal too.”

In Belgrade, Anshu was the highest-ranked wrestler in her category, followed by world no. 11 Anastasia Nichita of Moldova, ranked three places below the Indian. Nichita is the 2020 European Champion in the 59 kg category and bronze medallist in the 57 kg event at the continental event from last year. The Indian made a slow start in the final, conceding a point for passivity in the first minute. Eventually, she’d have to settle for silver after a 1-5 loss.

But in a year hampered by a raging pandemic, Anshu has grown into a reliable competitor. With more to come in the future.

“This year’s win against a wrestler like Linda Morias, who is a world champion, helped her confidence. But we still need to work on her ground wrestling techniques and scoring more points while sitting,” Dharamveer concluded.

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