Paris-bound Antim Panghal wants to emulate Sushil Kumar’s Olympics wrestling feat

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New Delhi, March 23: Vinesh Phogat, Indian wrestling’s poster girl, has competition. Nineteen-year-old Antim Panghal, the nation’s first-ever under-20 world wrestling champion, wants to set the bar so high that “no one (in India) can ever break my records.” Both Vinesh and Antim are from Haryana but their commonality ends there.

In a fresh episode of the ‘Fit India Champions Podcast’ released on Saturday, Antim talks about her resolution to ‘not touch jalebis at least for a year’ and why she wants to emulate her idol, the two-time Olympic medalist, Sushil Kumar.

“I have never met Sushil Pehelwan but I was blown away when I heard his work ethic and how hard he prepared to win an Olympic medal. I really want to be like him and if he was the gold standard in men’s wrestling, I want people to say that Antim is the ultimate in women’s,” said a candid 19-year-old to podcast host Ekta Vishnoi.

The ‘Fit India Champions’ podcast series is aimed at spreading the message on wellness through conversations with athletes and health influencers. The 10-episode series is in partnership with GOQii, a major stakeholder in the fitness sector that proactively manages health through its digital and multimedia technology.

Antim, who has qualified for the Paris Olympics 2024 in the women’s 53 kg category, revealed that choosing wrestling as a career was the best decision she made in life. Coming from a family where elder sister (Sarita) and father Ram Niwas were kabaddi players, Antim decided to take up wrestling because “it’s an individual sport and selection in any national squad depended only on hard work and nothing else. I saw how sad my sister would be when she was not selected.”

Antim’s career as a wrestler started at the local dangals (wrestling competition) usually held at akhadas (schools) with mud pits. “I was playing and winning a lot in the dangals and when I switched to mats at the cadet level, I was never scared. In 2019, I learned that one can play in the 2024 Olympics only if I do a lot of hard work with complete dedication and discipline,” said Antim, adding that she trains about eight hours every day under coach Bhagat Singh.

“My parents and my sisters continue to support me and in Bhagat Singh, I have a mentor who not only keeps me on my toes but takes care of every detail in my preparation. I don’t have to look beyond my coach for extra motivation because we are steadfast in our goals and objectives,” said the United World Wrestling Rising Star of the Year 2023.

Although she still has a lot to do to catch up with Vinesh Phogat, the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold medals at the Commonwealth and Asian Games and a multiple world championships medalist, Antim Panghal, 10 years junior to Vinesh, is determined that she will set a few records that will be “hard to beat.”

“Winning an Olympic medal is my dream. It’s a family project and if I can do that I would have reciprocated the sacrifices my parents and sisters made for me,” said Antim, whose father moved from the village to Hissar town and bought a buffalo to ensure his daughter was never short on fresh milk!

“Doodh (milk) and ghee became my staples because my parents just would not let me go. Now I am used to them and of course supplement my meals with fruits, nuts and dalia, roti and sabji (vegetables). I love lassi,” Antim said with a chuckle.

Antim is a sweet tooth, too. “I love jalebis but on my last birthday, have promised my coach that I will not have even one till my next birthday on August 31, 2024. It’s a resolution because I have a goal to meet and I am quite determined,” said Antim.

The wrestling competition at Paris 2024 will be held between August 5 and 11 at the Champ de Mars Arena. If Antim manages to win a medal on her Olympic debut, not just jalebis, she will have the world at her feet.

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