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Antim Panghal and Anshu Malik take silver in Budapest

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Antim Panghal and Anshu Malik take silver in Budapest

After an eight-month break, Antim Panghal returned to competition wrestling and won a silver at the current Ranking Series in Budapest, allaying doubts about her condition with fewer than 50 days left until the Olympics in Paris. In the summit match, Emma Jonna Denise Malmgren of Sweden defeated the bronze champion at the 2023 World Championships, 4-0.

After a flurry of aggressive maneuvers, the defending European champion got off to a fast start, taking a 3-0 lead in the opening frame. Panghal played great defense and made a few counterattacks, but the Swede was ultimately too strong. Notwithstanding the defeat, Panghal's return to the mat following a back injury that kept him out of the Asian Championships this year makes the outcome important for India's Olympic prospects. This March, she did not participate in the 53kg trials for Olympic qualifying. Panghal and WFI had been silent regarding her level of fitness the entire time.

Sakibjamal Esbosynova, the 18-year-old from Uzbekistan, was soundly defeated 10-0 by the 19-year-old to start her career. Panghal, who was undoubtedly the day's better wrestler, kept breaking through Esbosynova's defense and easily jumped out to a 6-0 lead. At the end of the first period, she put an incredible four-point throw to conclude the match and set up a semi-final matchup with 33-year-old Polish fighter Katarzyna Krawczyk. The matchup with Krawczyk in the round of sixteen ended up being an attritional contest. Panghal seldom had an opportunity to come close to Krawczyk's legs because of her stonewalling, in contrast to Esbosynova, whose defensive performance was severely lacking.

She was only able to muster a two-point throw during the fight, but it was sufficient since Panghal's angles, pace, and mat awareness held Krawczyk at bay. The Indian fighter used the encounter as a nice warm-up before the final, giving up only one point for inaction. Panghal only competed in the Budapest tournament after winning gold in Tunis in July 2022. This was her second appearance in the Ranking Series.

Anshu Malik (57 kg), the only Indian competing in the final, lost 12-1 to Kexin Hong of China, the current world No. 1; Hong destroyed the Indian with a succession of leg laces to end the match in 50 seconds.

The overwhelming victory in the championship match was in stark contrast to Anshu's resilient opening round performance, where she defeated Anastasia Nichita, the 2022 world champion from Moldova, 6-5 despite trailing 2-0 at the end of the first set. Anshu gained the lead back with a couple of two-point takedowns in response, but Nichita countered with a push-out and a two-pointer. Anshu's last takedown proved to be the game-winning move with under twenty seconds remaining.

Subsequently, she won 2-1 in the thrilling semifinal match against the reigning Asian and global champion Qi Zhang, earning all three points through passive play. Vinesh Phogat, the only Indian player in action, lost to Colombia's Alisson Camila Cardozo Rey 10-0 in the opening round and was unable to advance past the quarterfinals. However, Vinesh lost badly versus Jiang Zhu of China, falling behind 5-0.