Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers: The highest number of wrestlers to compete at the Olympics was in 2016 when India fielded eight wrestlers across the three wrestling classes —Greco Roman, Freestyle and Women. But a lot has changed in past five years. India is now considered as one of the heavyweights in wrestling and will be the favourite to grab most quotas at Asian Olympic Qualifiers, scheduled in Almaty in Kazakhstan. A total of 14 spots will be in the offing as the Indian wrestlers begin their hunt for the ticket to Tokyo from April 9.
Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers: Greco Roman on Day 1
The first day will see action in the Greco-Roman style. India has not yet qualified in any of the six weight divisions — 60kg, 67kg, 77kg, 87kg, 97kg and 130 kg — but stands a good chance to end the wait. All eyes will be on Sunil Kumar (87kg) and Gurpreet (77kg) as the duo are the favourites entering the competition.
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Gurpreet has been in red-hot form on the domestic front, dominating the 77kg weight class. The 2020 Rome Rankings Champion beat his his strongest opponent Sajan on two occasions convincingly two bag the place in the Indian team for qualifiers. However, the thing to worry about is his lack of international competition. Gurpreet last competed in January 2020 in Italy. He missed the 2020 Asian Championship to focus on the Asian Qualifiers. However, the qualification event was cancelled due to Covid-19. He even missed the Individual World Cup in December, the first wrestling event since worldwide lockdown, and the recently concluded Rome Rankings due to a niggle. He will face tough competition from Japan’s two-time champion Shohei Yabiku and 2019 Asian silver-medallist Hujun Zhang of China.
Meanwhile, Sunil, India’s poster boy in Greco-Roman will face a tough challenge from three time Asian Champion and world bronze medallist Hossein Ahmad Nouri (IRI). Japan’s Masato Sumi and Yoji Kawamura can be the dark horses in the weight class.
Other Greco wrestlers are Gyanender (60kg), Ashu (67kg), Ravi (97kg) and Naveen (130kg).
Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers: Women’s Wrestling on Day 2
With one quota already in the kitty, India has sent a five-women squad to Kazakhstan. Vinesh Phogat had sealed the 53kg place for India in 2019 after bagging bronze medal at the World Championship in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan. The remaining weight classes are 50kg, 57kg, 62kg, 68kg, and 76kg. Boasting a young squad, Anshu and Sonam Malik will the favourites to seal quotas for the Tokyo Games.
In 57kg, Anshu, 19, has been a revelation for India since 2020. The youngster has won three medals in her only three senior competitions, and will be the favourites to finish at the top. While most the top wrestlers like Helen Maroulis (USA), Odunayo Adeuoroye (NGR), Risako Kawai (JPN) and Iryna Kurachkina (BLR) already qualified, she is likely to have an easy sail through to the final. However, it might not be the case for her best friend and teammate Sonam.
Competing in 62kg, Sonam, although has been dominant in the national circuit, thumping 2016 Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik four-times, is yet to prove her mettle in the international arena. It won’t be an easy road for her in a heavily competitive division. A total of nine wrestlers including Sonam will be competing for the final two spots. Her biggest challenge would be two time Asian medallists Nabira Esenbaeva (UZB) and Ayaulym Kassymova (KAZ).
Nisha Dahiya, meanwhile, will be an interesting prospect to watch out for. Returning to international scene, after a ban due to doping, she will be hungry to make the most of this opportunity.
Other two women wrestlers are Seema (50kg) and Pooja (76kg).
Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers: Freestyle on Day 3
India has already qualified in three weight division; courtesy of Ravi Dahiya (57kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Deepak Punia’s (86kg) medal winning performance at the 2019 World Championship. Attention will be on 74kg, which will be for the first time not have a name starting with Sushil or Narsingh. Instead, this time it will be a young wrestler from Punjab, Sandeep Singh Mann. But it will not be a simple task for the inexperienced Indian wrestler to make it to Tokyo Games. He faces a stiff competition from Asian and world medallist Adam Batirov of Bahrain, and 2016 world championship bronze medallist Elaman Uulu Dogdurbek of Kazakhstan.
Satyawart Kadian too has a task cut out for him. Mohammad Hossein Mohammadian (IRI) headlines the ten-man freestyle 97kg bracket that’ll feature a field that has a Rio Olympic bronze, a world bronze, and five Asian medals. Other notable entries are Magomed Ibragimov (UZB) and Batzul Ulziisaikhan (MGL).
Sumit Malik (125kg) will the third entry for India in men’s freestyle.
Full list of wrestlers:
Greco Roman: Gyanender (60kg), Ashu (67kg), Gurpreet Singh (77kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Ravi (97kg) and Naveen (130kg).
Women Wrestling: Seema (50kg), Anshu (57kg), Sonam (62kg), Nisha (68kg), and Pooja (76kg).
Freestyle: Sandeep Singh Mann (74kg), Satyawart Kadian (97kg) and Sumit Malik (125kg).