The race to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics is heating up with each passing day as athletes from around the world continue to give one final push to ensure a safe passage to the Games for themselves. The situation is no different in India, with a lot of the top sportspersons not yet assured of an Olympic spot.
Amongst the many athletes in the country who are still hoping to make it to Tokyo is the veteran and two-time Olympic medallist wrestler, Sushil Kumar.
Ever since he missed out on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics spot to Narsingh Yadav, the 37-year-old has been surrounded by quite a few controversies and has been in and out of the mat due to injuries and the pandemic.
Since missing out on the 2016 Olympic spot, Sushil Kumar has been nowhere near his best. Though he bagged a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, he suffered a shock exit in the qualification round of the Asian Games in the same year. 2019 was not great either as his return to the World Championships after eight years was cut short in the very first round following a loss to Khadzhimurad Gadzhiyev of Azerbaijan.
Though Sushil Kumar still harbours the hope of making it to the Tokyo Olympics, things are far from ideal for India's most successful Olympian.
Is it the end of the road for Sushil Kumar?
Sushil Kumar is 37 years old and is certainly at the twilight of his career and so the Tokyo Games might well be the final Olympics of his career. He would be 40 by the time the 2024 Paris Olympics take place and hoping him to qualify for it would a bit too far-fetched.
His long-time coach and friend, Satpal Singh, too seemed to have accepted this.
"If he does make it, Tokyo will be his last Olympics. One year is very long in an athletes' life, so the Tokyo Games being delayed by a year will make some difference. But Sushil is very disciplined. ven now he's 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," Singh had said in April 2020.
Earlier last month, Sushil withdrew from the national trials for the Asian Qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics which will be held from 9th to 11th April 2021 in Kazakhstan. His withdrawal meant that the young Sandeep Singh Mann won the trials and would be competing for the Tokyo slot at Kazakhstan.
Sushil cited a lack of training and practice due to the elections of School Games Federation for his withdrawal from the trails; and this withdrawal could be a fatal blow for his chances to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
For, if the 21-year-old Mann confirms an Olympic slot for himself during the Asian Qualifiers, it would be game over for the veteran. But if Mann messes up his opportunity somehow, then Sushil would still be in contention to qualify through the World Olympic Qualifiers, which would be held in Bulgaria in the month of May.
But that seems a bit unlikely at the moment, considering the form the young Sandeep Singh Mann has been in off late.
The 'elections of School Games Federation' and 'lack of training' might have well shut the door for Sushil Kumar and his Tokyo dreams.