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Controversies & Injuries: Sushil Kumar’s Comeback to Wrestling

Will two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar bring home a third successive Commonwealth Games medal this year?

Updated
Olympic Sports
4 min read
Sushil Kumar will represent India in the 74 kg weight category
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Controversies & Injuries: Sushil Kumar’s Comeback to Wrestling

December 2017: Sushil Kumar returns to the mat after three years, and participates in three events in the run-up to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Less than four months later, and he has been:

  • Slammed and criticised for getting three consecutive walkovers en route his National Wrestling Championships gold.
  • Accused of instigating violence during the Commonwealth Games qualifiers.

Controversies just always seem to follow the grappler, who will be vying for a third successive podium finish at the CWG, scheduled to take place in Australia from 4-15 April. But what has Sushil Kumar been up to in the last few years? And is he ready to bring home another medal?

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Throwback to 2014 Commonwealth Games

A feisty Sushil Kumar had taken all of 107 seconds to beat Pakistan’s Qamar Abbad and clinch the gold medal in the men’s 74 kg category wrestling final at the 2014 CWG. Post those games in Glasgow, Kumar had missed the World Wrestling Championships, and then the Asian Games with an eye on the all-important Rio Olympics.

Fast forward to the 2015 selection trials for the World Championships that had posed as the first qualifying event for the Rio Olympics – and Sushil was forced to sit out due to a shoulder injury he picked up during practice. Narsingh Yadav, who was then called on to represent India in the 74 kg category, clinched a bronze, and subsequently sealed a Rio berth – making Sushil ineligible for the quadrennial Games.

No amount of revolt, not even an appeal in the High Court, could get India’s most decorated wrestler in Olympic history a ticket to Rio.

Controversy-Ridden Comeback

After three long years, Sushil Kumar returned to the mat in November 2017, and ‘walked over’ to a gold medal in the men’s 74 kg freestyle competition of the National Wrestling championship. The Haryana grappler had fought for just two minutes and 33 seconds in the preliminary rounds, after which Sachin Dahiya and Praveen Rana, out of respect for their senior, had conceded their quarter-final and semi-final bouts.

The incident had raised questions about the alleged ‘tradition’ in wrestling, while Kumar had received flak for saying that he too, would have done the same for his seniors.

If I were in their place, and standing against a senior wrestler to compete, I’d have done the same since there is a tradition of giving respect to senior wrestlers.
Sushil Kumar to TOI

After an easy yet successful domestic comeback, Kumar made a glorious return to the international arena by clinching gold at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in Johannesburg just a month later. The Indian wrestler defeated New Zealand’s Akash Khullar via a pinfall in the final of the 74 kg freestyle category to win his first international medal since the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

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And then came the CWG qualifiers in late December. Kumar successfully booked a spot in the 74 kg category for the Gold Coast Games, but soon after, reports of a violent fight at the venue emerged. It was learnt that fans of the two opponents – Sushil Kumar and Praveen Rana – had clashed after the final bout, while Rana’s brother had been threatened by Kumar’s supporters.

The incident was followed by an FIR against Sushil and his supporters, just short of jeopardising his place in the upcoming CWG.

The first tournament in 2018 – the much-anticipated Pro Wrestling League (PWL) was to see the highest bid in the tournament’s history – Sushil Kumar – clash with rival Praveen Rana, and 2014 Asian Games gold medallist Abdurakhmunov Bekzod. But then too, wrestling fans were left disappointed as Kumar pulled out of the league without fighting a single bout. That left Sushil with the Asian Championships in February – a final chance to get some competitive action before CWG. However, Kumar chose to sit out of the tournament with the fear of aggravating his knee injury.

In a nutshell, Sushil Kumar’s comeback to the mat after three long years saw him participate in a total of three events, two of which were domestic tournament. He made headlines more for his controversies and tournaments that he was missing, than his preparation for the upcoming CWG.

With a few whispers of the wrestler’s impending retirement doing the rounds, will Kumar be able to clinch a medal in what could be the last Commonwealth Games of his career?

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