Jitender reigns supreme at national wrestling trials

Competing in the 74kg freestyle category, the Services grappler will have to be in top form at the season-opening meets to ensure he makes the Olympic qualifiers squad.

By Naveen Peter

In what was a tightly contested battle, Jitender Kumar of the Services prevailed over his opponents to seal his place in the Indian team for the season-opening Matteo Pelicone Memorial and the Asian Wrestling Championships on Friday.

Competing in the much-talked-about 74kg freestyle category, a division that includes the two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, Jitender was on top of his form as he fended off some tough challenges before beating Haryana’s Amit Dhankar 5-2 in the final bout. 

With the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) deciding on going ahead with the selections despite Sushil sighting his unavailability to an injury, Jitender will have to ensure that he returns with medal-winning performances from the meets if he has to avoid another trial ahead of the Olympic qualifier in March.

The WFI had earlier announced that the winner of the season’s first selection trials will compete at the Matteo Pelicone Memorial in Italy (January 15-18), the Asian Championships in New Delhi (February 18-23), and the continental Olympic qualifiers in Xian (March 27-29). But their president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh later stated that fresh trials could be held ahead of the Olympic qualifiers if the performances of the squad were not up to the mark.

“If we find that performances of our wrestlers are not satisfying at the first two events, we can have fresh trials to select wrestlers for the Asian Olympic qualifier. We want to send our best wrestler so that India can have the maximum number of quotas for Olympics,” Sharan told the reporters after the trials.

Too close to call

Going into Friday’s trials, the 74kg freestyle division was the toughest to call. With as many as three reigning national champions involved, it eventually boiled down to experience. 

While Gaurav Baliyan, the national champion in the category, lost out to Dhankar in the dying minutes of their semifinal bout, in the final, Jitender ensured there were no slip-ups as he made the most of the openings to punish his opponent with quality takedowns to pocket the tie.

Meanwhile, in the 57kg and 86kg freestyle categories, World Championship medallists Ravi Dahiya and Deepak Punia barely broke a sweat to book their place in the Indian squad.

Having handed a bye to the final, in the 57kg category, Dahiya was all over Pankaj from the Services as he registered a dominant 10-0 win by technical superiority. The tale was no different in the 86kg category, as Punia eased past Pawan Saroha 6-2.

Sumit Malik
Picture by We Are Team India/Twitter

Kadian, Sumit prevail

The trials at the KD Jadhav Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on Friday had more such dominant performances as Sumit Malik ruled the 125kg freestyle category to make the Indian team. Representing the Railways, Malik had an easy 6-0 win over Pushpender of the Services before easing past another Services grappler Satendar 9-0 to make the Indian squad.

Meanwhile, in what can be termed as one of the under-rated rivalries in Indian wrestling, reigning national champion Satyawart Kadian got the better of his nemesis Mausam Khatri to make the national squad in the 97kg freestyle category.

While the men’s freestyle gave a few close and entertaining bouts, Greco-Roman provided with an all-but-expected script, with Gyanendra (60kg), Ashu (67kg), Gurpreet Singh (77kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Hardeep Singh (97kg) and Naveen (130kg) making the national team for the January events.