Asian Wrestling Championships: Anshu Malik's title defence lasts 54 seconds, but there are positives

Anshu Malik won a bronze in the 2020 edition of the Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Fifty-four seconds. That was all it took Japan's Tsugumi Sakurai to stop India's Anshu Malik defending her 57kg Asian Championships title in Mongolia on Friday. It was a blink-and-you-miss-it bout where Anshu was left a mere participant - Sakurai offered her no breathing room or even a hint of a chance to execute a move: Gold for Sakurai, silver to Anshu.

Anshu's day until then had been quite the opposite - she had blazed through to the final after wrestling for a combined four minutes and 36 seconds. (For the uninitiated, a wrestling bout lasts six minutes, divided into two periods of three minutes each.) Anshu, 20, had come into the Asian Championships as only one of three defending champions (along with compatriot Sarita Mor (59kg) and Kyrgystan's Aisuluu Tynybekova (62kg)) and was aided by a fairly easy draw.

She got her first win with a dominant performance over Uzbekistan's Shokhida Akhmedova and followed it up with another over Danielle Sue Ching Lim of Singapore. The two wins put her on top of her group (the five-wrestler field was divided into two groups) and she next took on Bolortuya Khurelkhuu for a shot at retaining her title. Anshu was at her best and largely remained untested as she refused Khurelkhuu any time to settle into a rhythm or snatch any points as she made it three wins in three.

But then came Sakurai - Anshu's first real test of the day.

A world champion in the 55kg category, Sakurai had made the move up to 57kg with an eye on the upcoming Asian Games. It's a category where the legendary two-time Olympic and three-time world champion Risako Kawai competes in for Japan. She needed the gold to make a statement - and she did just that.

Sakurai notched up an early takedown to take the lead and worked her way into an armbar before rolling over and inflicting the fall. It almost looked like Anshu did not have enough time to realize what had just happened.

This competition had been Anshu's return to the mat after nearly six months, since her loss to Helen Maroulis at last year's World Championships at Oslo. It was a bout that had left Anshu in tears. Maroulis, much like Sakurai, worked the arm-bar and locked Anshu's right shoulder in an impenetrable grip, leaving her with an injured arm.

Anshu seems to have recovered completely from that, and gave a good account of herself in these championships, albeit in a thin playing field. She will now need to focus on bouncing back ahead of a packed calendar that includes the Commonwealth and Asian Games in the next few months.