Olympic qualifiers: 6 wrestlers grapple for lone berth in 74kg class

By Navneet Singh
New Delhi, Feb 1 : In an almost unprecedented scenario — and a welcome case of embarrassment of riches — as many as six wrestlers, including Narsingh Yadav and Sandeep Singh, who shocked him at the recent nationals, are locked in an intense battle in the 74kg category to make it to this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Jitender Singh, Amit Dhankar, Vijay Kumar, and Gaurav Baliyan are the other aspirants for selection in the Indian team that will go for the Asian Championships, also an Olympic qualifying event, to be held from April 13-18 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

If no one qualifies from Almaty, they will get a second and last opportunity at the world Olympic qualifiers from May 6-9 in Sofia and Bulgaria.

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The preparation for the race to grab the lone berth in the Indian team well and truly began on Monday when the six wrestlers got into an Olympic preparatory camp at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) training centre in Sonepat, Haryana.

“We expect someone to earn quota place in 74kg, too, in the next qualification event,” said Vinod Tomar, assistant secretary of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

In the 2019 Olympic qualification cycle, four Indians — Ravi Dahiya (57kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), Deepak Punia (86kg), and Vinesh Phogat (53kg) — had earned quota for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.

Besides Punjab’s newly crowned national champion Sandeep Singh, Asian Championships medallist Jitender Singh, who won silver at the National Championships in NOIDA recently, is also gearing up for the national trials to be held at the end of March.

Yadav, who had made an appearance in the domestic competition after four years following a doping sanction in 2016, lost in the second round of the NOIDA nationals. But he gets another chance to prove himself for the Almaty Asian qualifiers. Although Baliyan, a talented youngster from Uttar Pradesh, lost to Yadav in the first round in NOIDA, has been named as the sixth wrestler for the camp.

Olympian and former 74kg national champion Sujit Mann said it was the first time in many years that was witnessing a huge depth in this category. “Generally, there is a big deference between the top and second athlete, but this time all six are closely bunched,” Mann told IANS. “It was difficult to predict who would win gold in the nationals [in NOIDA].”

India’s double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar though had opted out of the nationals. However, he could be considered, on the basis of his past performance, for the trials if he decides to throw his hat in the ring.

Sushil and Yadav rivalry in the 74kg were, in fact, were talking point ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. While Yadav had won the Olympic quota place on the basis of his 2015 World bronze medal, Sushil later claimed he too should be given opportunity by conducting trials to determine the final spot. Sushil’s request was rejected by the wrestling federation. Even Yadav couldn’t compete at the Rio Olympics due to a doping controversy. He was replaced by Praveen Rana, who lost his opening round match.

The 74kg weight category is considered to be the toughest, says Mann. “You have to be strong as well as quick. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible to earn points in big tournaments,” said Mann, who had represented India in 2004 Athens Olympics in 74kg category.

Mann said all the wrestlers are hungry to prove themselves as there hasn’t been any competition in the past one year due to the pandemic. “A strong bench augurs well for the future. Good sparring partners in the camp will build up an excellent team for the 2022 Asian Games,” he said.

Probables for national camp:

57kg: Ravi Dahiya, Pankaj, Aman, Rahul, Shubham
61kg: Ravinder, Suraj, Naveen, Somba Tanaji
65kg: Bajrang Punia, Rohit, Sharvan, Amit, Anuj
70kg: Vishal, Parveen, Karan, Sushil
74kg: Sandeep Singh, Jitender Kumar, Amit Dhankar, Vijay, Narsingh Yadav, Gaurav Baliyan
79kg: Rahul Rathee, Pritam, Veerdev Gulia, Pradeep
86kg: Praveen, Vetal, Deepak, Sanjeet, Deepak Punia
92kg: Praveen, Prithviraj, Lovepreet, Gopal Yadav
97kg: Satyawart Kadian, Monu, Sumit Gulia, Ashish. 125kg: Sumit, Dinesh, Pratyaksh, Anil Kumar

Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.

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