IT WAS touted as the duel of the year. The clash was supposed to feature two of India’s best grapplers in the 74kg category — double Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar and the young and upcoming Narsingh Yadav —at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. The duo had never squared up in front of a domestic crowd, and with a spot for Rio 2016 up for grabs, this was going to be a sure shot humdinger of a contest.
Citing a shoulder injury, Sushil pulled out of the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, scheduled in September — the first qualification tournament for 2016 Rio Olympics. It meant the 32-year-old would not participate in the selection trials in Delhi. With his pull-out, all the hype and brouhaha of an epic clash also faded away.
With Sushil out injured, Narsingh was supposed to have it easy in the selection trials. Instead, he was given a mighty scare in the finals by young gun Parveen Rana. Known for his power-game, Narsingh took the early advantage by going on the offence. However, Rana was quick to retaliate with his swift leg take-down moves, which took Narsingh off guard.
Although he did take two more points at the beginning of the second period, he was rattled and looked tired.
Although the game meandered as both looked to seize the initiative with a series of controlled moves, it was Rana who was calling the shots in the end. With a little more luck, he could have caused a major upset. However, that was not to be the case on Tuesday. The game ended 6-5 in favour of Narsingh, with India’s possible Olympic prospect inching out of the mat gasping for breath.
Quota for country
Despite Sushil’s absence, Narsingh had barely managed to make the cut for Vegas. But Narsingh knows a creditable performance in Vegas — where one has to finish in the top six in each category — should be enough to earn him a quota for Rio. Hence, a narrow finish notwithstanding, the 25-year-old exuded confidence after the win.
“If I win the quota, then I will be the one representing my country in Olympics next year… however, the final decision lies with the federation (WFI), I will just give of my best,” he said.
The decision to grant an Olympic berth lies with the concerned federation and not the wrestler. Despite Narsingh’s ambition, top WFI officials reckon that form, and not quota is the prerequisite for a Rio ticket.
“If Narsingh gets the quota, it means India has qualified to send a grappler in the 74kg category. By no means does it mean that he will represent India in Olympics next year. For final selection we will conduct trials next year,” said Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
In such a scenario, the much awaited duel, between the two star grapplers next year does finally look like a possibility.
While acknowledging the presence of Sushil and Narsingh in the same category has given the federation a “pleasant headache”, WFI secretary general V.N. Prasood opines they will take into account factors such as time, fitness and current form of grapplers before making the announcement.
“Look, the event in Vegas takes place in September, which means we still have almost a year before the showpiece event in Rio. In the interim we have ample time to gauge the progress of Narsingh, Sushil and others in this category… after which the federation will hold trials at the opportune time to finalise the grappler,” Prasood said.
It means Sushil still has a realistic chance of winning another Olympic medal. Despite making the switch from 66kg to 74kg only recently, the WFI cannot afford to ignore his tremendous credentials at the international stage. He may have missed the flight to Las Vegas, but still stands a good chance to qualify for Rio if he remains fit for the WFI trials next year and six other qualification tournaments, which begins in March, 2016.
While there is still time before WFI decides on India’s premier grappler, for millions of fans from across the country, a bout between Sushil and Narsingh is something they will be hoping for to witness before the carnival begins.
In Sushil’s absence, the limelight was very much on the other Olympic medal winner, Yogeshwar Dutt. The grappler was up against Amit Kumar Dhankhar in the 65 kg. Amit had gone to court last year against the wrestling body alleging favouritism in the way Yogeshwar was picked for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. He had sought the court’s direction to ensure a fair selection trial and that the best grappler should represent the country in international events.
But when it came to the mat, Yogeshwar proved he is still way ahead of Amit, defeating him 6-3 to book the ticket to Vegas.
After the bout Yogeshwar admitted he was under pressure. “Yes, there was slight pressure on me to beat him. Although I was pretty confident of defeating him but in case, I was unlucky today, people would have got a chance to point fingers at me,” Yogeshwar told reporters.
“There would also have been criticism against the WFI, who had chosen the team last time for the Commonwealth and Asian Games. People would have said that the Federation’s chosen team was not right. So today I proved that the team picked last year was the most deserving,” he said.