‘You can loathe him or love him, but you cannot ignore him’.
This is a quote which was so aptly penned for the mercurial tennis great John Mcenroe in the 1980s. But now, it seems India’s very own Olympic great Sushil Kumar is doing his best to take over the mantle from McEnroe.
Ignore is the last thing any Indian fan would do in case of Sushil Kumar. Come second week of April, the veteran grappler in the 74kg will lead an experienced Indian freestyle Wrestling team to the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games.
With 2 Olympic medals, World Championship title, 2 Commonwealth Games titles, Asian Championships titles there is very little left for him to prove.
But at 35 years of age and no international competition since the last 4 years there could always be questions raised on his match fitness. Innumerable practice/trials can never substitute match time. How much the controversies have slowed him down (if at all) will be a matter of concern to Federation and followers alike.
On his part Sushil Kumar, seems to be leaving no stone unturned in his bid to come out on top. He has moved base to Georgia with coach Satpal and his training partner Harphool. All expenses are borne by him as he is not part of TOPS scheme nor is he getting the monthly stipend of Rs 50,000 from the Ministry.
His opponents at Gold Coast are much younger, but none have the pedigree, not yet at least, to challenge the strong Indian, who regularly locks horns with grapplers much above his weight category.
He claims to be commencing a new Olympic journey culminating in Tokyo. Much bigger challenges await later in the year, with the Asian Games & World Championships. Will he participate or turn up injured? Your guess is as good as mine.
Beyond Sushil Kumar
Concentration lapses are a matter of concern for another decorated Indian wrestler with the best track record in this squad after Sushil, the highly rated Bajrang Punia (65kg), very famous as Yogeshwar Dutt’s prot g .
Armed with enormous lung and will power this 2013 World Bronze medallist is slightly vulnerable to leg attacks. And waiting to exploit this weakness will be the African champion from Nigeria, Amas Daniel. Speedy reflexes and very strong upper body, Daniel could give nightmares to Bajrang if he is not sharp. Complacency will be his other big adversary.
A veteran of many dangals, Mausam Khatri flatters to deceive on more than one occasion. Khatri who will be contesting the 97 kg category, is a solid wrestler without any big weapons. Slightly slow on his feet, Khatri would know very well his two big opponents will be the African champion from South Africa, Erasmus and the physical masterpiece (from where else) but Nigeria, Soso Tamarau. But Khatri manhandled both at the Commonwealth Championships garnering 32 points across the 2 matches.
There will not be a better opportunity to secure Gold at a multi sport Games than Gold Coast for Mausam.
With just 5 grapplers at 125kg category, a medal should be a certainty for Sumit, but the colour would depend on which Sumit turns up on D-day. Despite being awesome at the 2017 Asian Championships, Sumit seemed off colour at the 2018 edition and the last Commonwealth Championships too.
In the battle of musical chairs at 57kg, Rahul Aware gets the chance to ply his skills at Gold Coast ahead of the experienced Sandeep Tomar and the fast rising youngsters Utkarsh Kale and Sharvan. These four jostle with each other at 57 kg and 61kg respectively.
Kale had won the Commonwealth title at 57kg with Aware coming second to Sharvan at 61kg.
Very much like Mausam Khatri and Bajrang Punia, Aware’s big challenge will be from Nigerian & South African wrestlers. Aware can draw confidence from the fact that his countryman at 57 kg, Utkarsh Kale, has soundly thrashed the South African Combrinck at the Commonwealth Championships.
Somvir, at 86kg, has the least international experience in this squad and will have his hands full with the Nigerian Bibo. The Nigerian had rattled Sushil Kumar at Glasgow too.
Podium finished in all 6 weight categories is well within reach with Sushil, Bajrang and Mausam fetching Gold whereas Aware will do himself a world of good with the Commonwealth title.