Coach Satpal backs Sushil Kumar to make Tokyo Olympics squad
He is an Indian wrestling legend. But for Sushil Kumar, the past few years have been a difficult period.
Initially, injuries sidelined India’s only two-time Olympic medallist in an individual event. But since the start of the 2020 season, the emergence of some quality talent in the 74kg freestyle category has made Sushil Kumar’s road back to the Indian setup a tough one.
With the 36-year-old choosing to skip the season-opening National trials because of a hand injury, one of India’s upcoming talents Jitender Kumar made the most of the opportunity to stake his claim for the Indian squad in the highly competitive 74kg category.
A silver medal at the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championships then saw the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) go ahead with Jitender Kumar for the Asian Olympic qualifiers.
This meant Sushil Kumar would have had to hope that Jitender Kumar is unable to grab a quota place for the Tokyo Olympics at the continental event to give him a chance to compete for a place in the Indian team ahead of the World Olympic qualifiers.
But with the Olympics and the qualification events pushed to 2021 in the wake of the novel coronavirus, and with WFI announcing fresh trials to choose the team for the qualification events next year, Sushil Kumar can heave a sigh of relief.
Tokyo Olympics, last chance for Sushil Kumar
Though a bit relaxed, the much-decorated Sushil Kumar knows that he can’t rest as of yet. And his coach Satpal Singh is confident that his ward will be back in the reckoning once the season is back on track.
“One year is very long in an athletes’ life, so the Tokyo Games being delayed by a year will make some difference,” Satpal Singh told the New Indian Express.
“But Sushil is very disciplined. Even now he is working hard towards maintaining his strength and endurance and will resume training as soon as he can.
“He knows Tokyo is his last chance, and he has a burning desire to win a gold for India. We will see how the qualification pans out."
Though the spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent domino effect on the international sporting calendar has made it difficult for the athletes to plan their year, Satpal Singh revealed that Sushil Kumar was keen on heading to Russia for training once normalcy is restored.
“Because of the worldwide lockdown, there’s no clear roadmap right now. As soon as things start opening, he will be going to Russia for training.
“He feels that he can still fight with the same power and bring back a medal for India,” said the coach who trained both Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt to Olympic glory.
National camps post lockdown
Meanwhile, the WFI is also keen on getting back to business as soon as the nation-wide lockdown in India is lifted.
The WFI, following a meeting with the national coaches, has decided that the national camps for the wrestlers in the weight categories in which India is yet to win an Olympic quota will soon at the earliest after the lockdown.
However, the federation was non-committal on a date as the central could extend the lockdown if the coronavirus curve is not flattened despite the measures taken so far.