The Indian wrestling contingent will begin their Olympic year with what promises to be an exciting test at the season’s first ranking event - the Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Ostia, an ancient port city near Rome.
India enjoyed a fantastic 2019 with quality performances at the World and the Asian Championships that saw them seal four Olympic quotas.
But the grapplers will know that they need to replicate similar form leading up to Tokyo 2020. After all, the Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh stated that the athletes could be in for fresh trials ahead of the Olympic qualifiers if their performances were not up to the mark.
However, immune to this policy will be Bajrang Punia (freestyle, 65kg), Deepak Punia (freestyle, 86kg), Ravi Kumar (freestyle, 57kg) and Vinesh Phogat (women’s freestyle, 53kg) who are all but certain to head to Tokyo for the Games in July following their quota-winning runs at the World meet last year.
Spotlight on Jitender Kumar, Satyawart Kadian
While Bajrang Punia, Deepak Punia and Vinesh Phogat are expected to lead the Indian challenge at the Matteo Pellicone Memorial, the spotlight will be on Jitender Kumar (freestyle, 74kg) and Satyawart Kadian (freestyle, 97kg) in the four-day meet that begins on January 15. The two will be keen to stake their claim as India’s representative for the continental Olympic qualifiers in Xian, China (March 27-29) with some handy performances in Italy.
Plying his trade in the 74kg freestyle category, a division that includes the two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, Jitender Kumar will have to ensure that he returns with at least a medal if he has to avoid a bout with the Indian legend ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
But the road to podium will be anything but easy with a host of reigning and former world champions and Olympic medallists in the fray.
While Dake is a two-time world champion in the 79kg freestyle category and has dropped down to have a crack at the Olympics, Chamizo is the reigning World silver medallist in this division. Demirtas, meanwhile, won the Olympic bronze at Rio 2016 and will be keen to get back to his best before the Olympic qualifiers come calling.
Meanwhile, in the 97kg freestyle category, all eyes will be on the American pair of Bo Nickal, the U-23 world champion in the 92kg and the reigning Olympic champion Kyle Snyder. While Snyder has been a force to reckon with the weight division for a while, Nickal’s emergence has spiced up the category even further. It’s in this mix that Satyawart Kadian will have to prove his worth.
Sonam Malik, Divya Kakran eye bright start
Among the women, a lot will be expected from Sonam Malik (62kg) and Divya Kakran (68kg), two of the few who showed great promise at the national trials a few weeks back.
Sonam Malik was in fine form at the Lucknow meet as she rallied from a four-point deficit to oust the Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik on criteria to book her place in the Indian squad for the season-opener.
Tynybekova is the reigning world champion in the 62kg category while Trazhukova won the World gold in the 65kg category and has dropped down to make her eligible for Olympic qualification.
Meanwhile, in the 68kg division, Kakran will have to negotiate the Tamyra Mensah challenge, if she has to go deep in the competition. The world champion from the USA was in envious form in 2019 and will be eager to ensure that she carries on the good work heading into Tokyo 2020.
The Greco-Roman tale
Meanwhile, though it seems to be a tough task, the Indian Greco-Romans wrestlers will be keen to test themselves against some of the top names in the business.
The Indian team consists of Gyanendra (60kg), Ashu (67kg), Gurpreet Singh (77kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Hardeep Singh (97kg) and Naveen (130kg).
Where to watch the Matteo Pellicone Memorial
The Matteo Pellicone Memorial will be streamed live on the official website of United World Wrestling as per the following schedule.
10:30 AM (3:00 PM IST) onwards: Qualification rounds and repechage (Greco-Roman 55kg, 60kg, 63kg, 67kg, 87kg 97kg, 130kg).
6:00 PM (10:30 PM IST) onwards: Final (Greco-Roman 55kg, 60kg, 63kg, 67kg, 87kg 97kg, 130kg)
10:30 AM (3:00 PM IST) onwards: Qualification rounds and repechage (Greco-Roman 72kg, 77kg, 82kg).
10:30 AM (3:00 PM IST) onwards: Qualification rounds and repechage (Women’s wrestling 57kg, 62kg, 68kg, 76kg).
6:30 PM (11:00 PM IST) onwards: Final (Greco-Roman 72kg, 77kg, 82kg).
6:30 PM (11:00 PM IST) onwards: Final (Women’s wrestling 57kg, 62kg, 68kg, 76kg).
10:30 AM (3:00 PM IST) onwards: Qualification rounds and repechage (Women’s wrestling 50kg, 53kg, 55kg, 59kg, 65kg, 72kg).
10:30 AM (3:00 PM IST) onwards: Qualification rounds and repechage: (Freestyle 97kg and 125kg).
6:00 PM (10:30 PM IST) onwards: Final (Women’s wrestling 50kg, 53kg, 55kg, 59kg, 65kg, 72kg).
6:00 PM (10:30 PM IST) onwards: Final (Freestyle 97kg and 125kg)
6:00 PM (10:30 PM IST) onwards: Final (Freestyle 57kg, 61kg, 65kg, 70kg, 74kg, 79kg, 86kg, 92kg).