Shivani Pawar reaches U-23 Wrestling World Championship finals; looks to be first Indian to win gold

Shivani Pawar in action at the U23 Worlds. United World Wrestling

Shivani Pawar will look to become the first Indian wrestler to win gold at the U-23 World Championships after she reached the finals of the women's 50kg division of 2021 edition of the tournament in Belgrade on Wednesday. The 21-year-old's path has been anything but easy. Not counted among the pre-competition favourites, the 23-year-old from Madhya Pradesh, was nearly eliminated early in her run at the Worlds. She trailed 0-9 in her first match of the competition to U-23 European silver medalist Anastasiya Yanotava of Belarus before coming back to win by fall.

She'd face another deficit -- 3-6 to Tetiana Profatilova of Ukraine in her second round before scoring 10 straight points over a couple of minutes to win the contest and set up a semifinal clash with reigning European U-23 champion Maria Tiumerekova of Russia. Pawar scored early, getting two points for exposure as she turned the Russian over, even as she attacked. Tiumerekova came back strongly, picking the Indian and throwing her for four points. Pawar though, countered almost immediately, turned the Russian once again and then pinned her shoulders to the mat in the same action to pick up the win.

While Pawar will be looking to create history on Thursday, she's already joined a select group of six Indians including Olympic silver medalist Ravi Dahiya and Olympic bronze medalist Bajrang Punia to have also won a silver in the U-23 World Championships.

In the final, Pawar will take on USA's Emily King Shilson. The American had an easier route to the final in comparison to her opponent, after the highly rated Sarra Hamdi of Tunisia - who competed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics - conceded her semifinal match. Shilson though, isn't an easy opponent. She's the reigning junior world champion and neither of her two matches at Belgrade have gone the distance.

Shivani was one of two Indians who reached the semifinals at Belgrade on Wednesday. Compatriot Anju who wrestled in the women's 55kg division scored two points with a takedown in the dying seconds of her bout against Russia's Viktoria Vaulina but still dropped a narrow 5-4 loss to the former European U-23 champion.