Going into the Olympic qualifying tournament, Sandeep Tomar did not even enjoy full backing of his teammates. There were allegations that the 25-year-old was favoured ahead of more deserving grapplers in his category so much so that Rahul Aware, a fellow competitor in the 57kg category, abandoned the team at Delhi airport when he learnt that Tomar was chosen ahead of him for the qualifiers.
But Tomar is no pushover. Just a couple of months back, he had won the gold medal at the Asian Championships and had been consistently out-performing the more experienced Amit Dahiya and even Aware in his category. On Sunday, the wrestler from Sonepat silenced his critics by earning a quota for the Rio Olympics at the World Qualifying event in Ulaanbaatar.
Tomar made the cut for the Games by defeating Ukraine’s Andriy Yatsenko 11-0 in the bronze medal bout to pick up one of three quotas available in the weight category. En route his Olympic qualification, Sandeep defeated Sezar Akgul of Turkey 11-0 and Kyrgyzstan’s Ulukbek Zholdoshbekov 4-1 to enter the semifinal round. However, he could not cross the semifinal hurdle, going down to Mirjalal Hasan-Zada of Azerbaijan 8-8 in a closely-fought battle. Sandeep came back strongly from his disappointing semifinal loss to thrash Alexandru Chirtoaca of Moldova 10-0 in his bronze medal bout to ensure that he got an opportunity to fight for a place in the Olympics.
“I am overjoyed at winning the quota and I think the hard yards that I put in before this qualifier have paid off. I was a little disappointed at having missed out on the final but it was important to eliminate that loss from my thinking as soon as possible,” Tomar said. “Now, all I have to do is to focus on the Olympics and these next three months are going to be extremely crucial,” he added.
However, this does not mean he will be travelling to Rio come August. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) will most likely conduct trials between him and Dahiya to decide who will represent India in the 57kg category at the Games. Aware is set to face disciplinary action, which virtually renders him out of contention. Dahiya, who represented India at the London Games, is considered to be the best bet in this weight category. However, at the selection trials conducted last month, he was twice beaten by Aware while Tomar too was defeated by the Maharashtra wrestler. The WFI will decide whether to conduct trials only after the final qualifying event concludes in Istanbul on May 8.
So far, only four Indian wrestlers have qualified for the Olympics as none of the others managed to make the cut at the qualifiers in Ulaanbaatar. Sumit got off to a poor start, losing his pre-quarterfinal bout to Hungary’s Daniel Ligeti 4-6 but luckily got another chance to make it to the medal round as his Hungarian opponent reached the final of 125kg category. He, however, failed to capitalise on the chance after getting injured and did not fight in his repechage bout.
Somveer (86kg) and Satyawart Kadian (97kg), meanwhile, fumbled in the initial rounds of their respective weight divisions to crash out of the competition early. The wrestling team will once again assemble in Georgia before flying out for the final qualifying event in Istanbul from May 5 to 8.