Anshu Malik became the first Indian to finish on the podium at the Individual Wrestling World Cup, winning a silver medal in the women's 57kg division in Belgrade, Serbia. The 19-year-old lost to Moldova's Anastasia Nichita 5-1 in the final.
The result meant the Indian - a former world and Asian cadet champion - has medaled at each of the three international tournaments she's competed in. She made her senior debut in early 2020 at the stacked Matteo Pellicone Memorial meet in Rome. That spectacular run included victories over top caliber opponents like Canada's reigning 59kg world champion Linda Morais, and 2014 Youth Olympic Games champion Grace Bullen of Norway. She then won a bronze at the Asian Championships in New Delhi.
The result in Belgrade was another high quality performance from the Indian. She beat 2019 European Games bronze medalist Alyona Kolesnik Azerbeijan 4-2 in the first round, before picking up a 3-1 win over Germany's Laura Mertens. In the semifinal, Anshu pinned Veronika Chumikaova. The Russian had had an excellent year with wins in the Poland Open, Russian Championships and the Ivan Yargin competitions and the loss to the Indian was her first of the year.
The bout against Nichita was always going to be the toughest challenge competition for the Indian. 21-year-old Nichita is, like Anshu, a fast rising youngster herself. She qualified for the Olympics with a fifth place finish in the 57kg division at last years world championships and became a champion at the 59kg class at the 2020 European championships. She'd won her matches by fall and then superiority but was tested against the Indian.
Anshu was defensive early on and conceded a point on passivity but only went into the break with a 1 point deficit. Anshu attempted a takedown early in the second half but it was the Moldovan who pulled the Indian down to score two. Anshu reversed the position to get on board but with a minute and forty seconds to go, Nichita got the Indian to the ground and went behind to score the final two points of the match.
The disappointment of the result notwithstanding, Anshu's silver medal has been the highlight of the tournament so for India with no other wrestler finishing on the podium so far. Indeed in one of the biggest disappointments for the Indian contingent, World bronze medalist and Asian Champion Ravi Dahiya exited in the very first round, after being pinned by Gamzatgadzsi Halidov of Hungary.
The result would also serve as a confidence boost for Anshu herself. The 57kg division is one where India haven't yet qualified an athlete for the Tokyo Olympics and former world bronze medalist Pooja Dhanda is expected to challenge Anshu for a place on the Indian team. While Anshu had said prior to the competition she was under no real pressure and had not burdened herself with any expectations, a strong result in Belgrade will only cement her claim to a spot on the Indian team for the first Olympic qualifier next year.