Antim Panghal marked her return to competitive wrestling after an eight-month hiatus with a silver at the ongoing Ranking Series in Budapest, allaying concerns about her fitness with less than 50 days to go for the Paris Olympics. The 2023 World Championships bronze medallist lost 4-0 to Sweden’s Emma Jonna Denise Malmgren in the summit clash.

Antim Panghal(Hindustan Times)

The reigning European champion hit the straps early, jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first period after a barrage of attacking moves. Panghal defended well and attempted a few counters too, but eventually the Swede proved too strong.

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Notwithstanding the loss, the result holds significance for India’s Olympic chances as Panghal returned to the mat after missing this year’s Asian Championships to a back injury. She didn’t appear in the 53kg trials for Olympic qualifiers either this March. All this while, WFI as well as Panghal remained tight-lipped about her fitness status.

The 19-year-old opened her campaign with a 10-0 rout of Uzbekistan’s 18-year-old Sakibjamal Esbosynova. Clearly the far superior wrestler on the day, Panghal repeatedly breached Esbosynova’s defence and raced to a 6-0 lead without breaking a sweat. She ended the bout with a sublime four-point throw at the stroke of first period to set up the semi-final against Polish 33-year-old Katarzyna Krawczyk.

The last-four bout against Krawczyk turned out to be an attritional affair. Unlike Esbosynova, whose defensive play left a lot to be desired, Krawczyk stonewalling meant Panghal barely got a chance to get anywhere close to her legs.

A two-point throw is all she could manage in the bout, but that proved enough as Panghal’s mat awareness, pace and angles kept Krawczyk at bay. The only point she conceded was for passivity as the bout proved a good workout for the Indian ahead of the final.

The Budapest competition was just the second Ranking Series appearance made by Panghal following her gold in Tunis in July 2022.

The other Indian in the final, Anshu Malik (57kg) lost 12-1 to current world No. 1 Kexin Hong of China who decimated the Indian with a series of leg laces to seal the bout in 50 seconds.

The lopsided final was a sharp contrast to Anshu’s dogged start to the competition that saw her eke out a tough 6-5 win against Moldova’s 2022 world champion Anastasia Nichita who led 2-0 after the first period. Anshu responded with a couple of two-point takedowns to nose ahead but Nichita replied with a push-out and a two-pointer to retake the advantage. With less than 20 seconds on the clock, Anshu’s final takedown proved the clincher.

She then prevailed 2-1 in the sapping semi-final bout against the current world and Asian champion Qi Zhang where all three points came via passivity.

The other Indian star in action, Vinesh Phogat couldn’t proceed beyond the quarter-final after a 10-0 romp over Colombia’s Alisson Camila Cardozo Rey in the first round. Against China’s Jiang Zhu though, Vinesh sank to a 5-0 loss.

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