The senior men’s freestyle national championships kick off in Noida on Saturday, making it the sport’s first national competition in a year. In order to avoid large gatherings during the time of Covid-19, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) will organize the freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s competitions separately in different cities. The women’s championships will be held in Agra (January 30-31) and the Greco-Roman competition in Jalandhar (February 20-21)
Around 250 wrestlers will participate in the two-day free meet with big names like Narsingh Pancham Yadav (74 kg), Jitender Kumar (74 kg) and Satyawart Kadian (97 kg) in the scrum.
The four wrestlers who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics will skip the national championships. While Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Vinesh Phogat (53) train abroad, Deepak Punia (86kg) and Ravi Dahiya (57kg) were exempted.
India’s top wrestlers had a disappointing run at the World Cup in Serbia last month. The contingent returned with only one medal – the 57 kg gold medal won by Anshu Malik. Their training has suffered since the harsh confinement last March due to delays in the organization of national camps. Many wrestlers have also contracted Covid-19 and are slowly coming back to great shape.
In the absence of big names, the focus will be on Yadav, who is making his comeback after serving a four-year doping ban. Yadav is considering a place for the Tokyo Olympics. He made it to the World Cup and lost a tight first round to Germany’s Osman Kubilay Cakici.
Yadav will face stiff competition from established names such as Kumar, Parveen Rana and Amit Dhankar. The biggest name in the 74kg – two-time Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar has stepped down and has yet to reveal his plans for Olympic qualification.
“Sushil is a big name and if he decides to make the qualifying event we will have to give him a chance in the selection trials later,” said WFI Assistant Secretary Vinod Tomar. “Based on the results of the nationals, the selection will be made for the national camp, then the trials can take place later. “
Besides 74 kg, India has yet to win Olympic places in two higher weight categories – 97 kg and 125 kg.
All participants have been asked to produce negative test reports for Covid-19, referees will wear face shields and mats will be disinfected. The Haryana, the Railways Sports Promotion Board and the Services Sports Control Board were allowed to field two teams for the 10 weight categories and the other states entered one wrestler each in each category.