The first gamble will play out at Las Vegas. Sushil Kumar, India’s double Olympic medallist, has decided to skip the forthcoming wrestling World Championships, citing a shoulder injury. While this opens up an immediate spot for Narsingh Yadav to take a shot at qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics – the top six in each category at the Worlds from September 7-12 earn a quota for their country – it is far from being the end of the road for the country’s most celebrated wrestler, who has now moved up into the same 74 kg category as Narsingh after his two podiums in 66 kg at the last two Games.
“We don’t know how serious the injury is but we did not want to risk him. However, if Narsingh wins a quota place for the Olympics at the World Championships, then we won’t send our wrestlers in 74kg category in future qualifiers.
We will see who is the best in that category and select him for the Rio-bound Olympics squad,” national coach Kuldip Malik, said.
Sushil’s pull-out also poured water on the tantalising face-off between the champion and the pretender, at the selection trials, scheduled for July 6-7 ahead of the Worlds at Vegas – the first qualification tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Narsingh’s possible qualification though could lead to a tricky situation where the selectors will need to choose between the wrestler who brings home the quota and the one who is a proven performer at the highest level, albeit in a separate category. Should Narsingh corner the quota, Sushil will not be permitted to compete at the continental championships.
‘The NOCs/NFs will not be able to send other wrestlers in the weight categories in which they already have a qualified quota place,’ the qualification rules state.
Though it is learnt that Sushil’s injury isn’t alarmingly serious, he was not expected to be at a 100 percent at the trials, and hence chose to opt out and not aggravate the shoulder niggle. “Yes, I have sustained an injury to my right shoulder while practising. So I would not be able to take part in the upcoming selection trials. So, automatically that rules me out of the first qualifying event for next year’s Rio Olympic Games,” Sushil told PTI. “I have been advised by the doctors to take rest. At the moment, I don’t know exactly how long my injury will take to heal completely, but I am taking good care,” he added.
Should Narsingh fail to bring home the quota from the World Championships, there are six more qualification tournaments, starting March 2016, where Sushil could aim for qualification. “I am not keen to take a chance, even though the injury is not so serious. It is not good to take part in a competition half fit. I will be competing in the qualifying events next year before the Rio Olympics and I have been working hard for it,” the 32-year-old who will be gunning for his fourth Olympics next year said.
Sushil won gold at the 2010 World Championships and is a legendary figure in Indian wrestling after his successive medals, while Narsingh’s best position at the Worlds was a sixth place at the 2013 edition in Hungary, Budapest, where he narrowly missed making the semis.
However, in qualification year, the Worlds are expected to be far more competitive, and Narsingh will need to better his best to earn the quota. Sushil picked bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and then followed it up with a silver at London in 2012 in the 66kg Freestyle, but he was forced to move up to the 74-kg division after the world body FILA shuffled the weight categories.
Since moving into the 74 kg, where Narsingh has been parked since the beginning, Sushil won a silver at the Senior International wrestling tournament in Italy and then gold at the the next tournament at Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July 2014.
However, Narsingh has made the most of Sushil’s sparse appearances at international meets, upping his performance. “He’s in good shape and has been competing very well,” said his longtime coach Jagmal Singh.
Narsingh is expected to shrug off the challenge of other contenders in 74 kg including P Rana at the national trials.
“He’s done well at the Worlds before and though we expect the competition to be stiff, Narsingh has a good chance to win the quota,” he added.