India’s star grappler Sushil Kumar at the moment desires nothing else but to play in the Olympics a final time. Whether or not he will get a chance to do so, will heavily depend on youngster Jitender Kumar, who will be in action on the sixth and final day of the New Delhi Asian Wrestling Championships on Sunday.
Although the ongoing tournament does not offer quota places for the Tokyo Olympics, it is of prime importance for the two Indian rivals for a coveted berth at the 2020 Olympic Games.
Both Sushil and Jitender are contenders for the 74kg category wrestling competition at the Tokyo Games. They share a history as the latter was beaten by India’s most decorated Olympian wrester Sushil, who had won a bitterly fought battle during the selection trials for the Nur-Sultan World Championships last year. A medal in the World Championships would have sealed an Olympics spot for the warhorse, but an early exit had forced Jitender back into the fray.
At the next selection trials to pick the Indian squad for the 2020 Asian Championships and the upcoming Asian Olympic Qualifiers, Sushil was compelled to miss the opportunity due to an injury. WFI had turned down the double Olympic medallists plea to defer the trials and Jitender is here today competing at the Asian Championships.
Will Sushil get another opportunity to earn a berth in the Indian contingent for the Olympics qualifiers. Jitender’s performance at the KD Jadhav Wrestling Hall in the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium will decide that tomorrow.
What can go against Sushil?
Despite a dismal show in Rome, Jitender has one more opportunity on Sunday. A medal winning performance in all likelihood will cement his place for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers. There won’t be another opportunity for Sushil then.
What may help the Olympian?
If Jitender fails this time too, the WFI will hold fresh trials for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers. Sushil will get an opportunity to earn an India berth. A finals appearance in the Asian Qualifiers will bring with it tickets to Tokyo.
Even if Jitender emerges triumphant on Sunday, the Wrestling Federation of India may still have a special consideration for the season pro Sushil.
What are the chances?
Jitender will be starting his day against Mongolia’a Sumiyabazar Zandanbud in the qualification round. Zandanbud is not seen as a threat for the two-time Commonwealth champion Indian. The Mongolian had no considerable success at the international level post 2014 when he won silver in the Asian and World Championships as a cadet wrestler. If Jitender wins this bout, he will either meet Iran’s Mostafa Hosseinkhani or Kyrgyzstan’s Bekzhan Zhambulov. Hosseinkhani has done well at the national level in Iran, winning gold in the Takhti Cup and Club World Championships this year. He is a two-time Asian Champion.
Jitender minces no word in accepting that Sushil is a legend but he would give his best shot for a coveted Olympics berth. “Sushil Kumar is a big name of Indian wrestling and has achieved so much for the country. We all respect his wrestling but when an opportunity is there, I will strive to prevail over all my opponents, including Sushil in my bid to make it to first to the March Olympic Qualifiers and then make the Olympic cut and subsequently win an Olympic medal,” says Jitender.
A Delhi native Sushil might not be present at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium on Sunday, but he will definitely be keeping an eye on Jitender’s progress. For once, an Indian success on the mat might well bring disappointment to the man who has given the nation so much to celebrate.