Sushil Kumar’s return to the mat has been far from spectacular — his tame loss last month in Belarus, pinned by world No. 5 Bekzod Abdurakhmonov in 90 seconds, makes us wonder about his chances at the UWW World Championships.
Sushil Kumar sealed his berth in the India squad for the United World Wrestling (UWW) World Championships, beating Jitender Kumar 4-2 in the 74 kg selection trial at the KD Jadhav Wrestling Arena in New Delhi on August 20.
In the absence of the injured Parveen Rana, Sushil’s biggest rival in the national set-up, Sushil was expected to breeze through the competition at the selection trials. However, Jitender gave the senior wrestler some stiff competition, especially in the latter half of the bout when Sushil looked increasingly winded. In fact, the 36-year-old took two medical breaks as well.
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The bout, a dogged affair which saw both Sushil and Jitender trade attacks and counters, began with the double Olympic medallist opening up a 4-0 lead in the first period.
Sushil, yet to find the kind of form that saw him win his world championship gold (2010) and Olympic medals (2008 and 2012), inadvertently injured Jitender’s eye, and later the elbow, when things began to heat up during the course of the bout. The senior wrestler apologised immediately but the incidents created controversy after Jitender and his coach alleged foul play.
“Everyone saw how he [Sushil] fought,” Jitender was quoted by PTI. “I was just doing wrestling and he was... I had trouble seeing after that eye injury. I had prepared well. He was also taking unnecessary breaks. In a day or two I should be fit. I will try to make it to squad in 79kg (non-Olympic weight division which is part of the World Championships to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan).” he added.
Jitender’s coach Jaiveer accused Sushil of gamesmanship.
“Sushil did it on purpose. He has been doing it for years. He employed the same tactics in the 2012 Olympics [at the London Games there was an allegation that Sushil had bit the ear of his opponent during his semifinal bout]. It was definitely deliberate. The referees were also hand in glove. They don't want any other to win against Sushil,” alleged Jaiveer.
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Sushil denied the charges levelled against him. “It was not done deliberately. He is like my younger brother. It was a good fight and if such bouts are fought consistently, the country will see good results,” he said.
“My style is not rough,” added Sushil. “My style is to win by technical superiority or pin the opponent. Today the instruction from the coaches was to just win the bout. It’s an art to win wrestling bouts. I wish Jitender all the best. He respects me and even touches my feet whenever we meet.”
All is not lost for Jitender though, who has been given a chance by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) in the non-Olympic 79kg category. Jitender will fight a one-off bout against Virdev Gulia, who won the trials in that category. It does seem a tad unfair that Gulia has to go through one more round of selection after winning his category. The WFI, however, said it was necessary as the officials want to take the best Indian team to Kazakhstan and the think-tank believes Jitender is a genuine contender for a medal at the Worlds.
Talking about the best team for Worlds, will India have a strong contender in the Olympic division of 74kg? Sushil’s sluggish performance says no. The coaches Newsclick spoke to are hopeful the old warhorse will use his experience to spring a few surprises in Kazakhstan. Sushil’s rather poor loss at the Medved tournament in Minsk, Belarus, last month, where he was pinned by world No. 5 Bekzod Abdurakhmonov of Uzbekistan in 90 seconds, doesn't inspire much confidence though.
For the record, Rahul Aware (61kg), Karan (70kg), Praveen (92kg) and Viderv Gulia (79kg) won the trials in non-Olympic divisions.
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