Who is U-20 Wrestling World Championships gold medallist Antim Panghal?
The wrestler became the first Indian woman to claim a gold medal.
In India, naming a newborn child is an elaborate process. Apart from consulting distant and close relatives, the parents also have a series of lengthy discussions with their family priest.
There are various criteria the name has to suffice – it should be ancient and contemporary, unique and common, mythologically and numerologically sound too. And rightly so. The meaning of the name, directly or indirectly, goes on to reflect the child’s character.
There’s nothing Antim
However, the same cannot be said for Antim Panghal. There’s nothing ‘Antim’ (Meaning ‘last’ in Hindi) about this young athlete who is just starting to create a name for herself (pun intended!). In Bulgaria, she became the first-ever Indian woman wrestler to win the U20 World Wrestling Championship.
Antim Panghal was head and shoulders above her competitors in the 53kg weight category. She overcame the U20 European champion Amory Andrich (Germany) 11-0 in the first round and pinned Ayaka Kimura (Japan) in the quarters. In the semifinal, she won via technical superiority against Nataliia Klivchutska of Ukraine.
In the decider, Antim decimated Alytn Shagayeva of Kazakhstan 8-0. At halfway, the former was leading 6-0. Counters, a double leg attack and another takedown – even the best in the business will give in to this relentless attacking form. She sealed the deal by collecting two more points with one more takedown.
The absence of parity in the scoreline testifies her class and calibre. As a matter of fact, Antim is 17 years old. To compete at such a young age in the U20 World Wrestling Championship is an achievement in itself. Winning it is a feat for which no praise is high enough!
Remember her name
Antim is another product of the Haryana machinery. She was born and brought up in the village of Bhagana in the Hisar district. Her parents, Ram Niwas and Krishna Kumari had already given birth to three daughters before Antim was born.
The district of Hisar is known for rather wrong reasons. It has a sex ratio of just 872 females per 1,000 males – a statistic competent to describe the prominence of patriarchy in the area. So, Antim’s birth was never going to be celebrated. Instead, she was named ‘The Last’ as per the common tradition of the state.
It was the only instance when Ram Niwas succumbed to this regressive approach. Ram has always been supportive of his daughters, be it Antim or his eldest daughter Sarita, a national-level Kabaddi player. Ram has gone to the extent of shifting homes, selling his vehicles, etc
Journey from Haryana to the Gold medal
The sport of wrestling has evolved over the years. And, so is the cost one has to endure if one wishes to reach the elite level. Antim was extremely fortunate to have a father who is as passionate and focused as she is. There was no looking back for the Panghal pariwar when Antim made her mind to take up wrestling. The taunts and troubles were dodged and faced respectively.
Her U20 World Wrestling Championship title is just another landmark in her journey. Since the younger age group, she has consistently performed well. Before capturing the bronze medal at the U15 Asian Wrestling Championship in Japan the next year, she won the U-15 national 49kg championship in Patna in 2018.
The Haryana wrestler would go on to win the Cadet U17 National Title at the Sub-Junior Nationals in Cuttack in 2019, as well as a Gold in the Cadet U17 National Title in Patna in 2020, throughout the course of the next three years. She took home two medals this year: a gold in the Junior Asian Championships and a silver at the U23 Asian Championships, both against much older competitors.
Antim was even close to pulling off an upset earlier this year. She was having an upper hand against world bronze medallist Vinesh Phogat 3-0 with 15 seconds to go before eventually losing 3-3 at the selection trials for the Commonwealth Games.
In retrospect, the agonising loss will perhaps keep her hunger insatiable. There’s promise in her without any doubt. It’s just a matter of how well she can translate it into prominent performances. With her age by her side, why talk about her ‘Antim’ (end) when this is just the ‘Shuruwat’ and that too a ‘Shubh’ one (an auspicious start).