Tokyo 2020 qualification: In Sushil Kumar’s absence, Jitender Kumar presents his case

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Shared News| January 4, 2020 8:10:36 am
In a bitterly-fought trial, Sushil had defeated Jitender to book his place in the World Championship last September. (File photo)

Sushil Kumar’s fate is no more in his hands. The chances of the two-time Olympic medalist competing at this year’s Tokyo Games will depend on how well his rival in the 74kg category, Jitender Kumar, does in the year’s first two tournaments.

On Friday, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) conducted selection trials for three upcoming tournaments — the first ranking series in Rome later this month, February’s Asian Championship in Delhi and the penultimate Olympic qualification tournament in Xi’an, China, in March.

Sushil had requested the WFI to postpone the trials, claiming he was nursing an injury. But the federation decided to go ahead without him. That opened up the field for others, including the likes of national champion Gaurav Baliyan and Amit Dhankar, considered to be Sushil’s prodigy. However, in a battle between equals, it was Jitender — who had cut back from competing in the 79kg category (a non-Olympic class) to 74 — who emerged dominant on the day, beating Dhankar 5-2 in the finals.

The road to Tokyo, though, will not be straightforward for Jitender. The WFI had originally announced that the winner of Friday’s trials will be assured of a spot in all three events. However, it went back on its word on Friday and instead declared that they can hold another trial before the qualifiers in weight categories where the performance is not satisfactory.

“If we find that the performance of our wrestlers is 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 wrestlers to make sure we have maximum entries at the Olympics,” WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said. The definition of satisfactory performance, meanwhile, was left ambiguous.

It is largely held that medals in Rome and New Delhi should be good enough for a wrestler to lock his spot for the Olympic qualifiers. That means if Jitender medals in the two tournaments, he will get an opportunity for a Tokyo berth. And if he manages to earn a quota at the qualifiers, then as per the federation’s selection policy, Jitender will go to the Olympics and it’ll be curtains for Sushil.

In a bitterly-fought trial, Sushil had defeated Jitender to book his place in the World Championship last September. The World Championship was the first Olympic qualifying tournament but Sushil could not book a quota. Jitender’s coach Jaiveer said the defeat ‘hurt them a lot’ and forced them to change a few things in his style.

Jitender has since training with world championship bronze medalist and Tokyo-bound grappler Bajrang Punia’s coach Shako Bentinidis and there has been an increased focus on his attacks.

“We prepared him to be aggressive from the beginning. We made him perform short sprints — 10-20m — to improve his explosiveness on the mat,” Jaiveer said. “The defeat against Sushil in the World trials had hurt us a lot. Now he has a chance to book an Olympic quota. It will not be easy but at least he has the first shot at it.”

In other categories, world Championship medalists Deepak Punia (86kg) and Ravi Dahiya (57kg) — who have qualified for the Games as well — won their categories with ease. In the heavyweight categories, Satyavart Kadian (97kg) and Sumit Malik (125kg) dominated their weight class.

The selection trials for the women will be held in Lucknow on Saturday.

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