Antim, 17-year-old wrestler, became first Indian girl to win world junior wrestling gold. She clinched the gold medal after dominating the women’s 53kg field at Sofia, Bulgaria.
She crushed Kazakhstan’s Altyn Shagayeva 8-0 to create history in the final. She stamped her dominance throughout the tournament as she first defeated the European champion, Olivia Andrich, by technical superiority (11-0) and then pinned Japan’s Ayaka Kimura inside a minute. Ukraine’s Natalie Klivchutska only narrowly managed to wrestle the full six minutes with Antim but was outclassed all the same in an 11-2 defeat.
Antim secured the medal after a tough and challenging journey. However, with unconditional support from the family, she managed to register her name on international wrestling platform.
Antim 🇮🇳 with a historic 🥇 for India
— United World Wrestling (@wrestling) August 19, 2022
In August 2004, Ram Niwas Panghal and his wife Krishna Kumari were blessed with their fourth child. The couple, living in the village of Bhagana in district Hisar, Haryana, already had three daughters at that point. Thus, they named their fourth child – Antim, meaning final/last. In 2004, it symbolised the desire not to have any more girl children.
Although, Antim’s father, Ram Niwas might have not given a second thought before naming his daughter but on August 19, she became the first Indian girl to win a gold medal at the Junior World Championships in the 34-year history of the competition.
Hisar’s sex ratio is skewed at 872 females per 1,000 males. Infact, Ram Niwas also admitted to the reason for naming his daughter Antim as a mark to end any more girl children.
“After three girls we wanted a boy. It’s the custom in our villages that if you have a lot of girls, you give them a name like Antim or Kaafi (enough) so that you don’t have any more. I’ve never really thought much about it,” said Niwas while speaking exclusively to Sportstar.
“It’s just a custom. If you have a lot of girls, it’s usually very hard to manage, especially if you aren’t very well off. There was a fear about how you would provide for their upbringing and how you would manage their wedding. At least, that was the thinking,” he said.
While his choice of name for his daughter might give hints of a tough future for Antim but she actually owes everything to her father.
The family might have not thought deeply about social naming customs which might be deemed regressive, but their support for Antim has been critical for her to go from strength to strength.
Antim go the encouragement to follow the sport from her father. Niwas’ eldest daughter Sarita was a national level kabaddi player, and after a diploma course at the National Institute of Sports, she will start a job at Sports Authority of India in Bangalore.
“I had been a kabaddi player so I hoped Antim would also play that game but it was Sarita who wanted Antim to become a wrestler. When Antim was 10 years old, she took Antim to the Mahavir Stadium in Hisar city where there was a wrestling programme,” told Niwas.
Antim’s mother Krishna Kumari said, “ Badi ladki ki zidd thi ki kushti khelegi (our eldest daughter was determined Antim should wrestle).”
It was Niwas’ determination to let Antim play the sport as he willingly made the 20km journey with his two daughters from the village to the sports academy.
“There was a coach, Roshni Devi madam, who insisted Antim should wrestle. She said, ‘The girl is good, let her play.’ I had to think for four to five months about this. She kept insisting, kept sending messages. Pura dabav tha unse (she kept up the pressure). She said, ‘If you aren’t letting her play, then give her to me, I’ll raise her,” recalled Niwas.
Ram Niwas didn’t have any concern with her daughter wrestling but it was a tough and big decision for the family. He said, “I was thinking if I’m going to put her in, I have to be serious. Bada decision jaldi nahi le sakte hain. Daalna hai toh accha karna hai warna dalna hi nahin (It was a big decision and we could not be hasty about it. She had to do well if we enrolled her, otherwise it was pointless). It has to be all or nothing. I can’t just put her in the academy and forget about her. Bistar sab le ke aana hai (I had to pack up everything and come here). So first I sent her and her eldest sister to Hisar and put them in a room on rent near Mahavir Stadium. There was someone who could cook and clean for her. Then, a month later, her mother also went there. The rest of my kids also joined them after six months. Finally, I also came here.”
Niwas made quite a lot of tough decisions for the better future of his daughters. one was the decision to shift his family from Bhagana to Hisar to support Antim’s wrestling career. Distance between his village Hisar was barely 20km, but that was challenging enough for them.
Niwas took a house on rent but soon realised that they need to get their own house. “I also needed a place where I could keep my buffaloes and my family. So, finally I decided to build my own home outside Hisar. The buffaloes were non-negotiable. If my daughter had to wrestle, she had to get the best diet. I don’t trust the milk you get in cities,” told Niwas, who keeps three buffaloes and a cow in the family’s house on the outskirts of Hisar city.
ANTIM CREATES HISTORY 🔥🔥
— SAI Media (@Media_SAI) August 20, 2022
Everything comes with a cost and so did Niwas’ thought of raising daughters would be expensive, came true but not for the reasons he had imagined.
“I still haven’t sold most of my land. But I’ve sold almost everything else. I had a tempo truck, a few bikes. and a tractor. I had to sell those. It’s not cheap to raise a wrestler. Paise ki zarurat thi to kuch na kuch to karna padta hai (we needed money so we had to sell). I had to raise money somehow. At other times, I would borrow money from my friends,” he said.
Niwas recalled that although he used to make proud statements in public about how he is happily spending money on his daughter but he had his own worries inside. “ Ram ko pata hai, ek kisam ka jua khela hai (God knows, I was gambling),” he said.
“I don’t know why I took that decision. I know I thought that she would make us proud one day,” he said.
Like Antim’s parents, her coaches also had a strong belief in her. They knew that she had the spark to do something special. “She was talented from the start,” told Pradeep Sihag, who coached her from the time she first started training at Hisar’s Mahavir Stadium.
“Her movement was always good. As she started getting serious, even the coaches liked working with her. Her catching power is quite good and she is very hard-working. She trains for four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening,” he added.
Balanced and steady growth
Antim was always consistent with her performances since the junior age groups. She won the U-15 national title in 49kg in Patna in 2018 before winning the bronze medal in the U-15 Asian Wrestling Championship in Japan the same year.
She then went on winning a number of medals in the next three years. She clinched cadet U-17 national title at the sub-junior nationals in Cuttack in 2019, followed by a gold in the Cadet U-17 national title at Patna in 2020. In 2022, she won a gold medal at the Junior Asian Championships followed by a silver a month later, against far older opponents, at the U-23 Asian Championships.
Although her medals are safely kept at her home but the most prominently displayed trophy is the cardboard cutout of a key to an electric scooter awarded to her after she won a dangal in Punjab. While, once was the time time when her father used to ride her to coaching on a motorcycle but it is now that she rides her own red colored tw0-wheeler.
Antim is not 18 yet and thus she has another two years in which she can compete at the junior level. However, she’s already ready for bigger stages and opponents several years older.
In May this year, she nearly pulled off a monumental upset. Antim led world bronze medallist Vinesh Phogat 3-0 with 15 seconds to go, before losing on criteria 3-3 at the selection trials for the Commonwealth Games.
“She stunned Vinesh with how quick she was at the start of the match. It was just lack of mat experience that cost her,” admitted coach Sihag. But that defeat would prove to be a catalysing moment.
“Think of the quality that Vinesh is. She is an Asian Games champion and a world medallist. And on the other side is this 17-year-old girl. After she did kushti (wrestle) with Vinesh and came close to beating her, she got the confidence that she is ready to take on the best,” says Sihag.
After a month, wrestling coach Jitender Singh asked Sihag if Antim wanted to take part in the Zouhaier Sghaier competition – a world ranking tournament – in Tunisia. There, Antim stunned a quality field. She beat Tokyo Olympics quarterfinalist Luisa Valverde, the 2022 Pan American champion, Dominique Parrish of the USA, and finally the 2022 Pan American champion in the 55kg category, Karla Godinez, in the final to win her first senior gold medal.
“Because she’s started competing and winning against seniors, the juniors is almost very easy for her,” said Sihag.
Antim has also inspired her brother, Arpit, the youngest of the siblings. Arpit also wrestles and is a Greco-Roman bronze medallist in the under-15 age category in Haryana. He got into wrestling because he wanted to be like Antim. He said, “I really like how aggressive she is. Her side attacks are very strong.”
Coach Sihag believes that Antim’s future will be bright ahead.
“You wait and see for another two years. She’s going to be very good. Everyone is going to know her name,” he said.
Antim also believes that her name is her identity and she doesn’t mind about it at all. She said, “I never thought too much about it or about changing it. Right now, it’s my pehchan, jaise kushti meri pehchan hai (it’s my identity, just like wrestling is my identity).”