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EXCLUSIVE: Despite Bajrang Punia's absence, upcoming Senior Wrestling Nationals generating buzz

EXCLUSIVE: Despite Bajrang Punias absence, upcoming Senior Wrestling Nationals generating buzz

Suhrid Barua

Published: 10 Nov 2019 7:40 AM GMT

The Senior National Wrestling Championships 2019 is one big platform for grapplers from across the length and breadth of the country to showcase their skills and stake claim for a place in the Indian team. But this time around, the Senior Nationals has an extra coating of ‘importance’ around it with places up for grabs for upcoming Olympic Qualifying Tournaments for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Given this scenario, the 64th Senior National Men’s Wrestling Championships and 22nd Senior National Women’s Wrestling Championships that will be held at Jallandhar, have generated a huge buzz of excitement among Indian wrestling fans.

Of course, India had sealed four Olympic quotas at the 2019 World Championship in Kazakhstan – three in men’s freestyle category – Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya and Deepak Punia and Vineesh Phogat in women’s freestyle category. Even then there is a lot at stake for wrestlers across men’s freestyle, greco-roman and women’s freestyle with cut-throat competition expected over the three-day premier domestic wrestling meet that will be held at the MS Bhullar Indoor Stadium, Jallandhar from November 29 to December 1.

Like the 2018 Senior Nationals held at Gonda, Uttar Pradesh, all eyes will be on the formidable Railways wrestlers, who held sway in the 2018 edition bagging the overall team title. Grapplers from Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) are also a strong unit and will be looking to improve on their second-place finish in the 2018 Nationals.

With the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) already sounding out that the winner, runners-up and two bronze medallists in each category will earn the right to feature in the upcoming Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, one can well understand the ‘significance’ attached to the 2019 Senior Nationals.

Sushil Kumar at the recently concluded World Championships (Photo: United World Wrestling)

With four Olympic quotas already sealed, the biggest talking point is whether two-time Olympic medallist and iconic wrestler Sushil Kumar can earn his place in the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments by making a podium finish.

Also read: Why Sushil Kumar’s road to Tokyo is not a piece of cake

There is no doubt that Sushil has a big bag of ‘experience’ under his belt, but his recent international performance has left a lot to be desired. The star wrestler will have to counter the challenge of 2018 Senior Nationals 74-kg gold medallist Amit Dhankar (in the absence of Sushil in 2018 edition) 2018 Senior Nationals 74-kg bronze medallist Parveen Rana and Jitender Kumar, who interestingly won the 2018 Senior Nationals gold in the 79-kg category.

The 31-year-old Amit is the most experienced among the three and the Haryana Police Inspector has been in good form, having earlier this year won the Asian Championship silver medal in 74-kg in the absence of Sushil.

It is pretty clear that all wrestlers who are yet to seal an Olympic quota place will have no option but to feature in the Senior Nationals if they are harbouring aspirations of competing in the upcoming Olympic qualifying tournaments with the ultimate aim of wrestling at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Even in the case of Sushil, the same logic applies and his Olympic-playing hopes will rest a lot on how he performs in the Senior Nationals,” says India’s only double Asian Games gold medallist wrestler Kartar Singh and President, Punjab Wrestling Association – the hosts of the 2019 Senior Nationals.

For Parveen Rana, who gave the 2019 World Wrestling Championship trials a miss owing to a shoulder injury, the Senior Nationals will mark his competitive comeback. “I have recuperated fully from my shoulder injury and will mark my comeback at the upcoming Senior Nationals,” says the 27-year-old Delhi grappler, who had earlier this year won a silver medal at the Asian Championship in the 79-kg category.

Also read: Race to Tokyo 2020: How did India fare at World Championships in pre-Olympic year?

However, India’s best Olympic medal hope Bajrang Punia will not feature in the 2019 Senior Nationals as he is yet to recover from an elbow injury – injury had prevented him from playing in the 2018 Senior Nationals as well. He said:

I have issues with my right elbow and haven’t started proper training yet. I did practice on the mat and the pain is there and I’m taking it easy. I’m hopeful about making an international comeback at a ranking tourney to be held in Italy early next year (sometime in January).

Talented youngster and the country’s lone silver medallist at the 2019 World Championship, Deepak Punia, is also skipping the Senior Nationals. It may be noted that Deepak had conceded his 86-kg final bout at the World Championship owing to an ankle injury. “I’m not going to play in the upcoming Senior Nationals. I have not started training after the World Championships. I will resume training as per the advice of my coaches.

It remains to be seen whether the country’s ace woman grappler Vineesh Phogat plays in the Senior Nationals given that she has already sealed her Olympic quota in the 53-kg category. The organisers will hope that Vineesh plays in the Senior Nationals or else the ‘star’ quotient’ of the Senior Nationals will come down substantially. But for all other wrestlers in various categories, it’s a now or never situation ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.

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