How wrestler Anshu Malik qualified for the Paris Olympics

Returning from a serious injury, wrestling star Anshu Malik has booked a berth for the Paris Olympics. She speaks to Lounge about her journey

Shail Desai
First Published8 May 2024
Anshu Malik will be representing India in her second consecutive Olympics.
Anshu Malik will be representing India in her second consecutive Olympics.(Courtesy United World Wrestling)

The wait seemed endless for wrestler Anshu Malik. At the Asian Qualifiers in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in April, she was back at an international competition after a year’s absence. At stake was a berth at the Paris Olympics. 

Her hunger to return to winning ways was evident in the way she dismantled her two opponents in the 57kg category, needing just under six minutes to seal her second appearance at the Games. Malik is now the fourth Indian female grappler to make the cut alongside Antim Panghal, Vinesh Phogat and Reetika Hooda. 

“There’s always this unsaid pressure, especially when it’s about making the cut for the Olympics that comes once in four years. But I was in a positive frame of mind, ready to accept anything that came my way,” Malik, 22, says. “Jo pichle Olympics main kami reh gayi thi woh ab yeh Olympics main puri karni hai (At the Olympics this year, I hope to overcome the things that were missing the last time around).”

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This is what Malik has been consistently chasing over the past few years, ever since she graduated to the senior level. At the age of 18, Malik qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, losing to the eventual silver medallist, Iryna Kurachkina, while missing out on a medal in the repechage round. 

“There was so much to learn from that competition. I was low on muscle mass and strength, lacked the mental toughness and just wasn’t a mature wrestler on the whole. These are the things I’ve been working on ever since,” she says. 

After clinching silver at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games—along with consecutive medals at the Asian Championships for the last four years—Malik’s progress was hampered in 2023 due to an MCL tear in the left knee. She first got injured during the semi-final bout of the Asian Championships in Astana in April 2023, where she finished with a bronze. 

“Since the Asian Games trials were coming up, we couldn’t spend adequate time on the recovery process. Ten days before the event, the same injury flared up again and I eventually missed out on the Asian Games. It was really tough to watch it on the television, especially when you know you could have been competing there,” she says. “But whether in sport or in life, you have to accept situations and keep moving forward. Because no one thing can become the sole purpose of your life.”

It wasn’t until November that she resumed training under her father Dharamveer, and coach Ajay Danda at the Shahid Bhagat Singh Academy in Mirchpur, Haryana. Her first real test came at the National Championships in Jaipur in February this year and against a familiar opponent, Sarita Mor, who had beaten her during the Asian Games trials. 

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“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I was a little tentative since I had been away from competition for so long. You also don’t know how the body will perform when coming back from an injury. But deep inside, I knew I had put in the work and perhaps even more than I had in the past,” she recalls. 

Malik won that bout and the following month, beat Mor a second time at the trials for the qualifiers in Bishkek. “Having so much competition within your country is great for us wrestlers. It was a real boost for my confidence to beat Sarita, who is my senior and a former World No. 1. I’ve faced different situations each time we’ve faced off, some really close matches. There’s always something to learn from her,” Malik says. 

With Olympic qualification in the bag, Malik has finally stepped away from her hectic training schedule that she had been following for the last six months. She took a short holiday with her family and tucked into pizzas and movies at will.

“It’s not like winning medals is on my mind all the time. I’m a normal girl who has a life outside of wrestling as well. Aur competition ke baad ka mazaa kuch aur hi hai. Kuch bhi khao, kahin bhi ghoomne jao, sab free chod dete hai! (I relish the few days I have off after a competition when I can eat anything, go anywhere and there’s nobody to stop me from doing anything!)” Malik says. 

“Just like it’s no fun to eat the same food everyday, it’s important to take a break every once in a while. This is also what creates the hunger to put in a better effort once you’re back. Even on the days I want to train, my father and coach ensure that I stay away from the mat,” she adds.

Malik is now looking forward to visiting Japan again as part of her training schedule. During her first stint after the National Championships, she had the opportunity to work with the likes of the four-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho and 2022 Asian Games gold medallist Akari Fujinami. 

“What makes the Japanese so good is their dedication and discipline towards the sport. They don’t stop until they’ve achieved their targets,” she says.

There are also other things that keep her engaged—and entertained—during her time in Japan. “I have to take on the role of a translator since my father doesn’t even speak English, let alone a few words in Japanese. After all, how long will he survive with his hand gestures,” she says, laughing.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer. 

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