Sushil Kumar finds himself in a terrible dilemma. The international wrestling federations decision to scrap his favoured weight division,66kg,from international events has left him with two choices: to compete in the 65kg division or move eight kilos up to 74.
On the face of it,moving from 66 to 65kg seems to be an obvious and safer option instead of jumping from 66 to 74. However,according to experts,adding eight kilos and competing in 74kg is a much easier prospect than shedding weight,even if it is just a kilo.
Unlike in boxing,there are some distinct advantages that a wrestler enjoys when upping his weight category. For instance,when Mary Kom shifted from 48 to 51kg before the London Olympics,she had to deal with boxers who were taller and had a better reach than her. It was Marys 52 frame that eventually became her undoing against a taller Nicola Adams in the semifinals.
In wrestling,height does not play such a decisive role strength and technique are two key aspects that are crucial. At 55,Sushil isnt among the tallest of grapplers even in his current weight category. He has always relied on his quick feet and impeccable technique.
More importantly,as his physio Nikhil Latey points out,competing in 74kg will help Sushil to maintain his fragile body better. In the last few years,the two-time Olympic medallist has had trouble keeping his weight in check,often struggling to get in shape ahead of major tournaments,including the London Games.Injuries have been a bane as well a bruised shoulder has kept him out of action for more than one year.
Changing his weight category will provide Sushil the cushion of increasing his nutrient intake and add more muscle. It will help him improve his strength and recovery. Considering that he will be 33 by the time Rio Olympics arrive,how quickly he manages to recover physically from his bouts might determine the ultimate outcome.
Of course,competing against tougher and stronger opponents in the middleweight category will pose a different challenge altogether for Sushil. But that shouldnt deter a champion like him.
Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai.