Sakshi Malik, Pooja Dhanda’s Olympic dreams get lifeline

Sakshi and Pooja had suffered shock losses at the wrestling trials in Lucknow in January but have now another opportunity

By Jay Lokegaonkar

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) will conduct fresh trials early next year to select the team that will represent India in the Asian Olympic Qualifiers for the Tokyo Games. 

The qualifying event, that was scheduled in Kyrgyzstan in March, was postponed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the Indian federation wants to ensure that its best grapplers make the cut.

“The Asian qualifiers were postponed and it’s not possible for wrestlers to keep up the same level of fitness and tempo for more than a year,” WFI secretary Vinod Tomar told the Hindustan Times

“Injuries can happen and those who’ve qualified via trials in January this year might not be fit for the Asian qualifiers.”

Sakshi Malik in action

The fresh trials will offer Rio 2016 bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik and the 2018 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Pooja Dhanda a shot at rekindling their Tokyo hopes. But it won't be an easy passage.

The duo suffered shock losses at the national trials held in Lucknow in January and were out of contention for a spot at the Summer Games.

A wider talent pool

While Sakshi Malik and Pooja Dhanda will have another shot at making the team that will head to the Asian Olympic Qualifier, the duo will have their work cut out.

This is because the WFI plans on allowing wrestlers that are currently juniors (under-20) - but will turn seniors next year - to compete in the trials.

To help add to the talent pool, the WFI is hopeful that they will be allowed to host the national championships, but owing to the pandemic, the fate of the competition remains uncertain.

“Who knows the situation might improve and we are able to hold the national championships in two-three months and a new lot of wrestlers may show promise,” said Tomar.

“They might turn seniors on January 1, 2021, and become eligible for trials. This could make next year’s trials tougher,” he added.

The Asian Olympic Qualifier for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo will likely be held in late March next year.