Indian wrestling will usher in the new decade with hope and optimism when the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) sits down for the first selection trials of the new season at the KD Jadhav Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on Friday.
The trials on Friday will see the WFI decide on the men’s freestyle and the Greco-Roman squads for the upcoming Senior Asian Championships, the continental Olympic qualifiers and the Matteo Pellicone Memorial, the season's first ranking series.
While the Asian Championships is expected to be held in New Delhi from January 17-23, the Olympic qualifiers are scheduled for March 27-30 in Xi’an, China. Meanwhile, the Matteo Pelicone Memorial will be held in Rome from January 15-18.
The Friday trials will see wrestlers fighting it out in all but one Olympic weight category in men's freestyle (57kg, 74kg, 86kg, 97kg and 125kg) and all the Greco-Roman divisions (60kg, 67kg, 77kg, 87kg, 97kg and 130kg). Meanwhile, the women's trials will be held on Saturday.
As India already sealed quota places in three categories, viz. 57kg, 65kg and 86kg at the World Championships, among the winners, only Bajrang Punia is exempted from the trials given his fine form, while Ravi Dhaiya (57kg) and Deepak Punia (86kg) will compete for a place in the team bound for the Rome ranking series and Asian Championship. The squad for the non-Olympic categories will be decided after the second leg of the trials next week.
Sushil Kumar seeks exemption
One of the prominent faces missing from Friday’s selection round will be India’s most decorated grappler Sushil Kumar. The two-time Olympic medallist has asked the federation to excuse him from the trials as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury that kept him out in the second half of the season gone by.
“I have requested the federation to postpone the trials,” Sushil Kumar was quoted as saying by The Indian Express. “I am recovering from an injury to my right shoulder and will not be fit for Friday’s trials. I have been preparing for it for a long time, so I hope the federation will take it into consideration and reschedule the trials.”
While the WFI is yet to announce its decision, the 74kg freestyle category is poised to see some quality wrestling action at the trails.
In what could be one of the toughest groups to call, the 74kg will see as many as three reigning national champions fighting it out for a place in the Indian squad.
While Gaurav Baliyan won the gold in this category at the Senior Nationals last year, with Sandeep Mann (79kg) and Naveen (70kg) shifting to the category to have a crack at the Olympics, the 74kg freestyle category is expected to see some juicy contests.
Satyawart Kadian vs Mausam Khatri
Meanwhile, the 97kg freestyle category is all but certain to be a face-off between two of the prominent names in the circuit, Satyawart Kadian and Mausam Khatri.
While Kadian is the national champion, Khatri is a much-accomplished wrestler, with the 2018 Nationals title and a handful of wins over his nemesis under his belt. The U-23 National Champion Akash Antil and the runner-up at the Nationals last year, Kapil, are the other participants in this category.
Sumit Malik, on the other hand, is expected to face no such trouble in the 125kg category. The 26-year-old Malik won the national championships gold last year, represented India at World Championships in Nur-Sultan, was a semi-finalist at the 2018 edition, and has a gold and a silver medal from the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Championships respectively.
The Greco-Roman tale
While most of the focus will be on the freestyle categories at the trials, the Greco-Roman grapplers too will have a chance to seal their place in the Indian squad for the upcoming competitions that include the Asian Olympic qualifiers.
With India failing to seal any Greco-Roman quota at the World Championships last year, the fight for a place in the squad will be much keenly contested in each of the six weight categories in this format.
Some to the top battles could include a face-off between national champion in the 77kg Gurpreet Singh and a three-time world age-group medallist in this division Sajan.
The 87kg category could see the silver medallist at the 2019 Asian Championships Harpreet Singh line up against Sunil, the undisputed powerhouse in the division.
Where to watch
The bouts from the selection trials will be streamed live on Wrestling TV.