The Indian wrestling season for the year is nearly done, following the conclusion of the National Championships. Just the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships scheduled for the 3rd of December remain - a tournament where the Indian team will comprise of the wrestlers who won gold and silver at the National Championships last week.
While the nationals were skipped by the vast majority of frontline wrestlers - just one Olympian from Tokyo took part - the competition marked out a number of prospects to take note of. Including a couple of younger wrestlers -Tokyo Olympians, Anshu and Sonam Malik-- who missed out on the Nationals owing to injury, these could be the faces of the Indian women's wrestling team over the next Olympic cycle.
Pooja Gehlot, 24
Women's 53kg division
While Vinesh Phogat remains top of the hill in the women's 53kg category, there are no shortage of claimants to her place in the Indian roster. Staking her claim to be first in that list of challengers is 24-year-old Pooja Gehlot.
Winner of the silver medal at the U-23 World Championships in 2019, Gehlot sustained an injury in the final of that tournament. The damage to her elbow kept her out for the next couple of years, only making her return at the 2021 Nationals.
In the absence of Phogat, Gehlot won gold in the 53kg division. Her tenacity and unique skill set in ground wrestling were on display at the Nationals. Trailing 5-10 in the last minute of her final, Gehlot trapped another rising talent, Maharashtra's Swati Shinde, in a gut wrench to score 10 unanswered points. "She's very quick to find openings and has excellent ground wrestling. If she can stay free from injury, she will be a very tough opponent internationally," says Kuldeep Malik, chief coach of the Indian women's team.
Shivani Pawar, 22
Women's 50kg division
Not many would have taken much notice of Shivani Pawar until the last couple of months.
She started her career in Madhya Pradesh - no great power in wrestling - and hadn't won a national title until the most recent edition. Plagued by injuries to her shoulders and knees over the last couple of years, this year has been the first in many that she could train consistently. She's made that count as well.
At the U-23 World Championships last month, Pawar, competing with a severe fever, won a surprise silver medal for India. That medal places her in an elite list of just 7 Indians - including Olympic medalists, Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya. Just to prove that result was no fluke, Pawar came through a tough field to win gold at the national championships a week later, beating 2020 Tokyo Olympian Seema Bisla in the semifinals.
Sangeeta Phogat, 22
Women's 62kg division
Sangeeta Phogat has long been in the shadow of her far more accomplished sisters and cousins. She could have her breakout season very soon though.
She returned to high level competition this year after a three year break due to injury after winning the selection trials for the 2021 World Championships. Although she didn't progress far in Oslo, she has shown potential to be India's mainstay in the 62kg weight division as she won her first gold at the national championships.
With Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik completely out of form, Phogat's main challenge at this weight division will be Tokyo Olympian Sonam Malik. The latter is currently recovering from an injury she suffered at the Tokyo Games and competition for a place in the Indian team will be between her and Phogat.
Nisha Dahiya, 23
Women's 65kg division
Nisha Dahiya was the unintentional focus of speculation last week following the death of a namesake wrestler. However, the 23-year-old will likely make the news for the right reasons in the next few years.
After receiving a two year ban as a junior for a doping offence she says was done unintentionally, Dahiya has slowly been making a strong case for herself in the seniors. Her gold medal at the Nationals was her third straight in the 65kg division, following her return to competition in 2019. A week before she won her most recent title, she would also win her biggest international medal - a bronze at the U-23 Worlds.
For all her success, Dahiya will eventually have to make a call whether to move down to the 62kg or up to the 68kg weight division. Although she's able to make weight for the 62kg division, she's chosen to stay in the non-Olympic weight class, since not doing so would mean being in direct competition with her mentor Sakshi Malik. Should she move down though, her power is expected to make her a major threat.