CHENNAI: Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar might have a new challenger when the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) organises selection trials in the 74kg weight category for the Olympic Qualifier. With the Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021 on Tuesday, the trials for the Asian Olympic Games Qualifier is unlikely in the near future. However, whenever it happens, the event could witness a face-off between two rivals, who also share a bitter past, Sushil and Narsingh Pancham Yadav.
The WFI recently said that it will not stop the Maharashtra wrestler from taking part in the selection trials. “Narsingh’s ban will get over soon then he will be eligible to take part in the selection trials,” said Vinod Tomar, WFI’s assistant secretary. Deferment of the Games gave the 31-year-old a chance to stake his claim in the 74kg, the weight category wherein India hasn’t secured a quota yet. So far, Bajrang Punia (65kg), Ravi Dahiya (57kg) and Deepak Punia (86kg) have secured Olympic quotas among Indian male wrestlers. Among women, only Vinesh Phogat (53kg) has made the Olympic cut.
While Sushil became the most celebrated wrestler in the country after winning bronze and silver in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Narsingh qualified for the Rio Games by bagging 74kg bronze in the World Championships in 2015. Sushil, who skipped the event due to injury, later demanded a trial against Narsingh and even approached the court but lost appeal. Narsingh, however, failed a dope test conducted on him a couple of months before the quadrennial event in Rio de Janeiro. The wrestler claimed his food was spiked.
He was eventually handed a four-year ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), a day before his opening bout in Rio. “God has given me this opportunity and I will not let it go now,” an elated Narsingh told this daily.
“I’ve been training continuously for the past four years. With no sponsors, it was difficult but I even underwent foreign training in 2018. I trained in Tokyo for a month then,” added the grappler. Apart from this, he has regularly been training with coach Jagmal Singh at the SAI Centre in Kandivali. “I train for three hours in the morning and as many hours in the evening. Jagmal sir has been helping me with my training and practice.” Narsingh married wrestler Shilpi Sheora in 2017 and believes his wife helped him a lot in riding the storm. “She is also a wrestler and understands my situation.
She inculcated the belief in me that I can even compete in the 2024 Games.” Narsingh might be confident but competition seems tough this time as he has to overcome challenges not only from Sushil but also from young wrestlers like Jitender Kumar, Parveen Rana and Gaurav Baliyan to enter into the national fold.
“The young crop of wrestlers are good but I can rely on my experience to get past them during the trials. Once the ban gets over, I will chalk out separate strategies for them as this time, I am determined more than ever,” he added.