Jitender’s Form Presents Sushil a Chance to Qualify for Tokyo 2020
Jitender Kumar’s rivalry with Sushil Kumar has gone down as one of the most fiercest in the Indian sporting scene of late.
The 36-year old Sushil, who is the only player since independence to return with two medals from the Olympics from the nation, has constantly been challenged by Jitender in the last few months as the race to the Tokyo Games heats up.
With just six months to go for the next edition of the Olympics, the participant for India in the 74kg weight category is yet to be decided, which possibly leaves the door ajar for both wrestlers to stake a claim.
An early ouster by Jitender in the home competition might force the WFI to look to the warhorse once again, as they look to maximize the number of quota places India earns for the Olympics.
Both Have Failed to Impress
After a sabbatical of a year, Sushil finally returned to the mat ahead of the World Championships in Nur-Sultan last August, eager to play in the Olympics a final time.
He had to fight it out against Jitender in the national trials, however, with the winner sealing a spot for the World Championships. In a controversy-ridden trials, Sushil got the better of the younger athlete, with Jitender and his coach accusing the senior pro of poking his thumb in his eye, which was ignored by the referees.
With the top six wrestlers in the 74kg weight division in Nur-Sultan assured of a quota spot for the Olympics, Sushil had his chance to prove the detractors wrong and show that his rigorous practice sessions with his personal coach Kamal Malikov was paying rich dividends.
His return to the World Championships after eight long years was greatly anticipated, and as he raced away to a 9-4 lead in the first round, it appeared that Sushil was back, more determined and passionate.
This brought Jitender back into the fray for an Olympic selection again. The WFI conducted national trails for three events - the Rome Ranking Series, the Asian Championships and the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in early January 2020, which Sushil skipped due to an injured hand.
The veteran had asked for the trials to be postponed so he had an equal chance to fight in the three upcoming tournaments, but his request was shot down by the Federation.
However, the President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh later clarified that the WFI would have no qualms about holding fresh trials ahead of the Asian Qualifiers, if the performance of the wrestlers were not satisfactory.
“If we find that performances of our wrestlers are not satisfying at the first two events, we can have fresh trials to select wrestlers for the Asian Olympic qualifier. We want to send our best wrestler so that India can have the maximum number of quotas for Olympics.”Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, WFI President
It meant that if Jitender had to earn a shot at the Tokyo Olympic Qualification and participate in the Asian Qualifiers, he had to impress the WFI with stellar performances in both Rome and New Delhi.
He shot himself in the foot, however, as he went down in the quarterfinals against Soner Demirtas of Turkey 4-0 in the recent Rome Ranking Series event.
Despite a stellar first-round win against Ukraine’s Denys Pavlov 10-1, the Indian was unable to keep his form going in the next bout, to make his Olympic dream tougher.
Jitender was given an opportunity to fight in the repechage as Demirtas entered the finals, but he failed to grasp onto the lifeline as he lost 2-9 to Daniyar Kaisanov of Kazakhstan.
The other Indian wrestlers who will be in the fray will be Amit Dhankar and Parveen Rana. Two wrestlers from each weight category will book a quota spot for the Olympics in the Asian Qualifiers.
A tough competition awaits in the category
Even if any Indian does manage to clinch their Olympic quota from the weight division, the chances of returning home with a medal look next to slim.
It will see Zaurbek Sidakov of Russia, the defending world champion, Rio Olympics bronze medal winner Frank Chamizo of Italy, and USA’s Jordan Burroughs - four-time World Championship winner take the mat, and the competition for the Indians will be anything but easy.
With Jitender, Amit and Parveen talented but inexperienced, and Sushil lacking in match practice and displaying rustiness of late, an Olympic medal from the 74kg category looks like a far-fetched dream.
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