Antim has the final word

A blatantly regressive village custom straddled her with the terribly rude name Antim (last) because as the fourth born daughter, the Haryana family from Baghana (Hissar) was supposed to not welcome any more female children after her birth.

In a stunning punch to patriarchy, 18-year old Haryana wrestler Antim Panghal became the first Indian woman wrestler to be crowned U-20 world champion with a 8-0 win over Atlyn Shagayeva of Kazakhstan in world U-20 wrestling Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria. The world-beating Antim Panghal now has the final word on what constitutes glory, pride and honour.

Named Antim by her parents Ram Niwas and Krishna Kumari, the stunning grappler had earlier steamrolled past Natalia Klivchutska of Ukraine with a 11-1 win in the semi-final on Thursday to book her place in the final and the Panghal family was cheering for their daughter’s every move, watching the final on their phone before heading to the youngster’s wrestling academy to celebrate the feat.

“Chhori ka naam Antim isliye rakha tha ki aage ladki paida na ho kyunki 4 ladkian ho gayi thi. (We named our daughter Antim so that we don’t get another daughter as we got four daughters). But we always treated her as our most loved child. Before going to the world championships, she told us that she will return with a gold medal and will become the first Indian woman wrestler to do so. Antim has become Pehli (first) in the wrestling world today,” an emotional Kirishan Kumari told The Indian Express.

With elder sisters Sarita, Meenu and Nisha opting for studies, a young Antim would accompany her mother to the family’s one and half acre farm ferrying her father’s meals at their village Baghana near Hisar. While the youngster would often watch local wrestlers train at the village akhada, her father’s desire to see his daughter opt for wrestling saw the family sending Antim to train at the Baba Lal Das Wrestling Academy.

The youngster would train at the academy since 2015, which meant that her mother and two siblings too shifted with her. “I always wanted to wrestle as I would see local wrestlers training while returning with my father from the farm as a child. My father has never discussed with me about my name but always told me that I am the first one for whom he will do everything. He would borrow money from his friends to support me and to pay the rent for the home in Hisar,” Antim had told this paper after winning the Khelo India Youth games title in June.

The U-15 national title in 2018 meant that the youngster would get some much needed cash award from the state government before she won the bronze medal in U-15 Asian Wrestling Championship in Japan. Two successive cadet titles in 2019 and 2020 respectively would be followed by a bronze medal in world cadet wrestling championship in Hungary last year.

Sharp eye, strong leg attack

Coach Vikas Sihag believes that Antim benefits from having a keen eye to observe her opponents. “Her strength has been her speed on the mat and she understands that it will be leg attacks as well as double leg attacks which will make her a strong wrestler. So even if she loses some points sometimes trying these, she never hesitates to try. Lakadbagha and Nidal moves she tried successfully this week and also tried for Kalajung when she could,” said coach Vikas Sihag.

Three months ago, Antim had to face the biggest disappointment of her career when she lost then to two-time Commonwealth Games and Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat in the finals of the selection trials for Commonwealth Games.

The Haryana youngster led the final 3-0 before Vinesh earned two points and pushed Antim to the red zone to level and win the bout. Post the Khelo India Youth Games, the youngster won gold in Asian U-20 wrestling Championships in Manama, Bahrain last month. “Senior ki samajh aur hai (Senior thoughts are different). That’s what Vinesh didi told me and told me that as a youngster, we have more movement and if we make the seniors work on their defense, we could win. That was a pat on my back from didi. Bus khud ko achha karna chahti hun (I only want to better myself),” Antim had said to this paper.

Coach Vikas Sihag believes that this title will end the disappointment in his ward of missing on the Commonwealth Games. “Antim only gave away two points during the whole tournament this week against much experienced wrestlers. As she gets to compete at the senior level and more senior trials, she will earn more confidence. It will also help her to think as a senior wrestler and she would not fear them and would go for double leg attacks as well to pin them,” says Sihag.

As for the village Baghana, it will be the first time that they will see a wrestler returning with a world title. “Our daughter has made us, as well as the whole village proud,” said Ram Niwas.

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