How Commonwealth Games cost Sushil Kumar and Indian wrestling stars a World Cup shot

The Wrestling Federation of India is happy to send a junior side for exposure to the UWW Freestyle Wrestling World Cup since the top wrestlers, led by Sushil Kumar, are set for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. But throwing a group of below-par wrestlers into the lion’s den could prove detrimental.
Sushil Kumar is expected to cakewalk to a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast but the double Olympic medallist would have found the experience of competing at the World Cup, against the best in the world, a more worthy exercise keeping in mind the future and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.(Getty Images)
Sushil Kumar is expected to cakewalk to a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast but the double Olympic medallist would have found the experience of competing at the World Cup, against the best in the world, a more worthy exercise keeping in mind the future and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.(Getty Images)
Updated on Apr 12, 2018 02:48 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Leslie Xavier

Indian men’s wrestling team stars -- the likes of Sushil Kumar, Bajrang Punia, Mausam Khatri and Rahul Aware -- look set for glory at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, being firm favourites to win gold in their divisions when action begins on April 12. However, their golden mission in Gold Coast has robbed them of a chance to compete in the prestigious UWW Freestyle Wrestling World Cup which began in Iowa, USA, on Saturday. (CWG live updates)

But, neither the wrestlers nor the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) could have done anything about it. The invite for India came too late. India were considered for the World Cup after Russia pulled out when their grapplers faced problems securing visas to travel to the US.

The entry deadline for Commonwealth Games was on March 7 and India had already named a full-strength team for the event, ready to flex their might to storm the competition.

READ MORE | Punam Yadav adds to India’s gold haul in weightlifting at 2018 Commonwealth Games

“The invite came last week,” said VN Prasood, secretary general of the WFI. “Our CWG team was already in the last leg of preparation for Gold Coast by then. There was no way we could have changed entry, either.”

GOLDEN LOSS

While the Indian wrestlers are expected to swell the country’s gold medal tally at Gold Coast, that haul could prove costly in the long run. The level of wrestling at the Commonwealth Games, with the only possible competition for India coming from Canada and Nigeria, is much below world standard. In fact, it is at a much lower level than even Asian competitions.

READ MORE | Manu Bhaker wins shooting gold, Heena Sidhu silver at 2018 Commonwealth Games

To put things into perspective, India won all the categories in the Commonwealth Championships in South Africa last year but managed just one gold (Navjot Kaur in women’s segment) at the Asian Championships in March.

The World Cup is a much bigger competition where the top eight teams in the world compete. India qualified for the men’s tournament for the first time in 2014 and, since then, have taken part in two more editions. It is no rocket science that the current crop of top Indian wrestlers have all benefitted from taking part at the World Cups, besides other top tournaments.

Indian World Cup team

Amit Kumar (57 kg), Sandeep Tomar (61 kg), Sharvan (65 kg), Arun Kumar (70 kg), Vinod Kumar Omprakash (74 kg), Sachin Giri (79 kg), Pawan Kumar (86 kg), Deepak Punia (92 kg), Viky (97 kg), Pushpender Singh (125 kg).

The experience gained at that level help Indian wrestlers get an understanding of where they stand in the global arena. This edition, two years ahead of the next Olympics, and months before the Asian Games, would have helped them refocus their training to prepare better for the future -- for the majors including World Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

READ MORE | Gymnastics team penalised at 2018 Commonwealth Games for not having ‘national emblem’

WFI, however, is happy it could send a side which has many “juniors” in it. But throwing a group of below-par wrestlers into the lion’s den could prove detrimental. The possible one-sided losses there might dent the confidence of the wrestlers more than build their future.

It’s a loss for India and, of course, WFI can’t be blamed, for a change. Then again, when one of the top wrestling officials in the country, talking about this loss of opportunity, says CWG was always a priority for Indian wrestling and not the World Cup, it appears a myopic view.

India are placed in Group A of the eight-team World Cup in Iowa alongside USA, Georgia and Japan; Group B comprises Azerbaijan, Cuba, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

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