New Delhi: Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt's withdrawal from the Senior Asian Wrestling Championship due to their respective injuries might have taken the sheen out of the tournament but the event provides an opportunity for other Indian grapplers to make a mark for themselves when they take on the best from the continent.
Considering the rising profile of the sport after the medal-winning efforts of both Sushil and Yogeshwar in the London Olympics, the organisers would be pinning their hopes on the new crop of grapplers in the absence of star home players. Enamoured by the success of London Games, the Indian contingent, led by Narsingh Yadav, will look to finish with a rich medal haul in front of the home crowd in the April 18-22 championship at the K D Jadhav Wrestling Stadium.
Amit Kumar (54kg) would like to better his bronze medal-winning effort in the last edition at Gumi, South Korea. Kumar, who had reached the quarterfinal stage in the London Olympics, has been touted as India's best future bet at the international competitions. India had won one gold and four bronze medals in the last edition of the Asian Championship. The gold was clinched by Yogeshwar, who has pulled out of the tournament due to a knee injury.
He has been replaced by Bajrang while Amit Dhankar will represent the hosts in the 66 kg freestyle event, substituting Sushil, who is nursing a shoulder injury. It has been understood that both Yogeshwar and Sushil don't want to aggravate their injuries by participating in the tournament as they are preserving their energy for the World Championships to be held in September in Hungary.
The two wrestlers haven't competed in the any of the major tournaments since their successful campaign at London in August last year. The championship, last hosted by India in 2010, will see a total of 236 grapplers from 19 countries in action. Asian powerhouses such as China, Japan and Kazakhstan, besides hosts will be fielding wrestlers in every weight category.
The Pakistan team was also invited by the organisers for the continental championship, but its federation did not send any representation. The attendance of London Olympic medallists in the competition would enhance the quality of competition and exhibit close bouts.
Iran's Sadegh Goudarzi, a silver medallist, will be seen in action in the 74kg event besides Gouzel Maniourova (72kg) of Kazakhstan, who won the bronze medal in the female category in the quadrennial event. The Indian eves will be spearheaded by Geeta Phogat, who is coming off from an impressive showing at the senior women's Senior Wrestling World Cup in Mongolia last month.
Geeta (59kg) won all her matches in an otherwise average performance by the Indian team, which finished fifth in the eight-team event. Sharing the burden of expectations from local fans would be her younger sister Babita, who will be competing in the 55kg category. The sisters had won bronze medals in the World Championships in Canada last year.
Though Greco Roman wrestling is not India's strength, the hosts would be hoping to throw a strong challenge in the competition. Asia's sport governing body would like to use the championship as an opportunity to show the International Olympic Council, who in its wisdom decided to eliminate wrestling from 2020 Olympics, the popularity of the sport in the region.
Squad: Freestyle - Amit (55kg), Bajrang (60kg), Amit Dhankar (66kg), Deepak (74kg), Narsingh Yadav (84kg), Parvesh (96kg), Hitender (120kg).
Greco Roman - Rajender Kumar (55kg), Ravinder Singh (60kg), Sunil Rana (66kg), Rajbir Chhikara (74kg), Manoj Kumar (84kg), Bhim (96kg), Naveen (120kg).
Female - Priyanka Singh (48kg), Vinesh (51kg), Babita Kumari (55kg), Geeta Phogat (59kg), Geetika Jakhar (63kg), Navjot Kaur (67kg), Jyoti (72kg).