‘Rough tackle’ helps Sushil Kumar make Worlds grade
Long after the clamour had subsided and the crowd had dispersed, Jitender stood there in a corner of the wrestling hall at IG Stadium surrounded by a few supporters and his coach Jaibir Lohchad. His left eye was still inflamed from the eye-poke he endured during the 74kg trials against double-Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar. It all but ended his challenge halfway through the bout.
But even seeing through one good eye and trailing 0-4 in the second period, a combative Jitender kept his aggression up and snatched two points off Sushil, and then continued attacking his legs. In the end, Sushil, 36, trying to make a comeback into the national squad, did enough to book his place for the world championships, which begin September 14 in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Here, Sushil would be hoping to qualify for his fourth Olympics.
As has now become common, Sushil’s trial saw its share of controversy—Jitender accused him of playing rough, and Jitender’s coach Jaibir alleged that the referees favoured the star wrestler.
“He (Sushil) was being given so many timeouts,” said an angry Jaibir. “He was playing foul and Jitender was not given points. He poked his thumb into Jitender’s eye.”
It was the second time the Haryana wrestler was facing Sushil in the selection trials. The first one he contested was the trials for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, when supporters of Sushil and another contestant, Praveen Rana traded blows inside the stadium.
Jitender lost to Sushil in an earlier round. “In that bout also he (Sushil) played rough,” Jitender said.
This time Rana, who is seen as Sushil’s main rival in the 74kg category, had pulled out due to an injury. There were five wrestlers in fray. Amit Dhankar, who had won bronze at the Asian Championships, was a strong contender but Jitender beat him with ease in the first round. Sushil won his first fight 2-0 against Vinod, before facing Jitender in the final.
Jitender was later given an opportunity to stake claim in a higher weight category (79kg, contested at the worlds, but not at the Olympics), for which he will fight a trial bout on August 23.
Sushil has not been a part of the national camp since he made a shock first-round exit at the 2018 Asian Games. He has been training with his own support staff. He fought his first competitive bout since the Asian Games only last month, losing to world number five Bekzod Abdurakhmonov in the 74kg quarterfinals at the Medved tournament in Minsk, Belarus.
“It is always difficult to comeback in wrestling,” Sushil said. “In Russia everyone was asking me why I want to come back to wrestling. I said I enjoy the sport. I lost two bouts in Belarus but both were quality bouts against tough competitors. I am hoping to do well in the world championships and earn a qualifying berth (for the Olympics).”