Focus on Vinesh; Deepak & Sujeet race against time

Phogat in spotlight ahead of Asian Olympic qualifiers in Bishkek; Indian duo in danger of missing event after travel hurdle
File picture of Vinesh Phoghat
File picture of Vinesh Phoghat

CHENNAI: Deepak Punia (86kg) and Sujeet Kalkal (65kg) will need loads of luck if they wish to book Paris Olympics tickets this time as their transit at the Dubai International Airport got delayed by a few more hours on Thursday evening. Stranded at the airport since Tuesday, the duo has to reach Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan before weigh-in on Friday morning. The weigh-in starts at 8am.

However, their flight which earlier was scheduled to take off by midnight got delayed by a couple of hours. The new schedule, if not changed, means they could now reach Bishkek by 7 in the morning. This gives them only an hour to clear the immigration and complete other formalities before rushing to the venue hosting the Asian Olympic Games Qualifier. The Day One of the event on Friday will see bouts in freestyle followed by women wrestling and Greco-Roman competitions on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

"Now they are in serious trouble. The flight has been rescheduled umpteen times in the last two days. Another delay could force them to miss the weigh-in and the qualifier," a source from the Wrestling Federation of India told this daily.

The duo was training in Russia and landed at the Dubai Airport on Tuesday. Unfortunately, they got stuck at the facility as unprecedented rain caused havoc in the Emirate. "We are trying to keep them in good spirits. Weight is not an issue for Sujeet but Deepak is slightly overweight and was planning to reach Bishkek a couple of days before the event to shed extra kilos. Let's hope for the best," added the source

Sujeet's father-cum-coach Dayanand Kalkal looked optimistic and said, "A wrestler needs proper rest, diet and training before any big event but both Sujeet and Deepak couldn't get it. The first goal is to take off for Bishkek then attend the weigh-in. If he (Sujeet) manages to reach in time then I am confident he can make it to the final."

Only Antim Panghal (53kg) has earned an Olympic quota for India so far with 17 more places up for grabs in wrestling for the marquee event.

'Bright chance'

Meanwhile, it is learnt that the WFI made sure that wrestler Vinesh's foreign coach, physiotherapist and sparring partner also got an accreditation each for the event. Vinesh, whose pet weight category is 53kg, will compete in 50kg at the qualifier. WFI president Sanjay Kumar Singh is already in Bishkek.

"Chances of Vinesh and Anshu Malik (57kg) are bright as a few good wrestlers in their respective weight categories have already qualified for the Games through the 2023 World Championships. We are expecting them to reach the final and book Paris tickets," said the WFI source.

Vinesh had competed in two weight categories (53kg & 50kg) at the selection trials raising eyebrows as a few of her competitors from both divisions lodged complaints against her with the WFI and United World Wrestling, the world governing body of the sport.

If she qualifies and competes, this will be Vinesh's third Olympics. She had to be stretchered off the mat after getting injured during a bout in the 2016 Rio Games. She failed to make it to the medal round in the next Games in Tokyo. Last year, she along with Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik launched a huge protest against former WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh accusing him of sexual harassment.

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