NEW DELHI: AS expected, Sushil Kumar booked his ticket for the upcoming World Championships at the selection trials at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall here on Tuesday. But it was not without an incident that almost turned into a needless controversy.
The 36-year-old quelled a spirited challenge from Jitender Kumar, eventually winning 4-2 in a hard-fought 74kg weight category final fight, much to the delight of over a thousand that had gathered inside the indoor arena.
Sushil had initially opened up a 4-0 lead during the first period. It was in the second half when the controversy started. While trying to grapple with Jitender, his thumb made contact with his opponent’s left eye and he was forced to take medical attention. Soon after, he suffered another injury, this time in the elbow due to a heavy grip from Sushil. He fought on admirably, going on to get two points despite having a severe red eye and a heavily strapped elbow. But it was not enough as the crowd went crazy on hearing the final whistle.
The two-time Olympian did apologise but Jitender’s coach Jaiveer was in no mood to listen. “It was deliberate. And this is not the first time he has done this. I believe the referees were in cahoots with him.” He also alleged that Delhi grappler was intentionally taking too many medical time-outs to disrupt his ward’s pace.
Jitender was inconsolable post the bout. His admirable display saw quite a few coming over to congratulate him. He even had the better of the stalwart a couple of times but he could not make the most of the opportunity. “I had got hold of his leg a couple of times. But due to the pain in my hand and my inability to see clearly, I could not take full advantage. Sushil has a habit of playing rough,” he added.
Both however will not lodge an official complaint. Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh also backed Sushil and said that the injury was not intentional. “It was not rough. When Vinesh Phogat suffered a broken knee, was her opponent rough? These things happen in wrestling,” said Singh.
The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winner did not want to create further controversy. He went and patted his opposite number on the back before saying, “It was not deliberate at all. He is like a brother. I would like to congratulate him. If he continues in the same vein, he will do well in the future.”
Sushil admitted that things were difficult for him considering his long lay-off, but said he was constantly improving. “It is never easy for a wrestler to get back onto the mat after a long break. When I was training in Russia, people asked me why it is that I am returning. I just said I love wrestling and that is why I am doing this.”
He hopes to get his training programme approved by the WFI within the next couple of weeks as he gears up for the Worlds, set to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan from September 14-22.
Jitender not out yet
In another surprising move, Jitender was given another shot to make the Kazakhstan-bound team after announcing that 79kg trial winner Virdev Gulia will have to fight with the 74kg grappler to decide who gets to compete in the higher weight category. The bout is set for August 23 in Sonepat.
WFI shot down allegations of favouritism. “We do not favour any wrestler. Our main aim is to send the strongest possible team so that we can win maximum medals,” assistant secretary Vinod Tomar said.
There are doubts regarding Jitender’s participation. “Will consult a doctor to gauge the extent of the injuries. I hope to be fight as I really want to make the cut,” Jitender added.