Earlier this week, Bajrang Punia introduced he would take a sabbatical from social media till the top of the Tokyo Olympics. While the Games would possibly nonetheless be rather less than 150 days away, Bajrang’s determination to go offline got here the evening earlier than he left for Rome for the 12 months’s first rating event that begins on Thursday.
It confirmed the significance of this event within the bigger scheme of issues, though by itself, it won’t be of a lot relevance. For each wrestler who has travelled to Rome, the importance of the Matteo Pellicone Tournament varies: for Bajrang, it will likely be the primary official competitors in multiple 12 months; for Vinesh Phogat, it will likely be an opportunity to construct on her outstanding win in Kiev final weekend. And for the younger Anshu Malik, it will likely be an opportunity so as to add to her rising popularity.
The Tokyo-bound quartet
Of the 4 wrestlers who’ve certified for the Olympics, two – Ravi Kumar and Deepak Punia – have pulled out of the competitors. This would have been the primary main take a look at for the 2 wrestlers within the 12 months of the postponed Games. But Ravi stated he injured his knee in the course of the nationwide camp in Sonepat final month whereas Deepak, who recovered from COVID-19 earlier this 12 months, was down with a fever. That places the highlight on two of India’s largest medal hopes the Olympics – Vinesh and Bajrang.
Vinesh marked her return to competitors after a year-long hole with a jaw-dropping efficiency on the Kiev International final weekend. Despite being away from the mat for thus lengthy, the 26-year-old confirmed few indicators of rustiness within the 53kg weight class remaining when she pinned 2017 World Champion Vanesa Kaladzinskaya in outstanding style.
In the absence of wrestlers from girls’s wrestling powerhouse Japan in addition to China, Vinesh will probably be challenged by Ecuador’s Luisa Melendres and Cuba’s Lianna Herrera. New nationwide champion within the 53kg class, 23-year-old Nandini Salokhe too is about to make her worldwide debut on this event.
Bajrang in the meantime will compete for the primary time for the reason that Asian Championship in February final 12 months. Even although he was away from competitors, Bajrang spent a few months within the United States to coach, the place he additionally competed – and gained –an eight-man invitational event.
Rome, the place Bajrang is the defending champion, would submit a very totally different problem. His nemesis Takuto Otoguro of Japan gained’t be current on the occasion, however the world quantity 2 will nonetheless face powerful competitors from Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov and Benham Ehsanpoor, a champion 61kg wrestler from Iran who bumped up his weight class to 65 kg lately. Bajrang, nevertheless, will probably be a favorite to retain his title.
An alternative for Sakshi, Anshu
Sakshi Malik, who has struggled to match the degrees that helped her win the bronze medal on the 2016 Olympics, may have one other alternative to type out her type earlier than the Asian Olympic qualifiers subsequent month. The 28-year-old has been overtaken by teen Sonam Malik as India’s finest guess within the 62kg weight class.
But Sonam, who suffered a freak harm whereas sparring with Sakshi on the nationwide camp, has pulled out of the event. The highlight on this class, from India’s perspective, will solely be on Sakshi. And if she manages to eke out a podium end right here, it’ll act as an excellent confidence booster forward of the choice trials for the Asian Olympic qualifiers, that are prone to be held later this month.
Rome will even be a chance for Anshu Malik (57kg class) so as to add to the excitement round her, which coincidentally started after she gained a silver medal on this event final 12 months. Since then, the 19-year-old has medalled on the Asian Championships (bronze), the person World Cup in Belgrade final December (silver) and was topped the nationwide champion in January.
In the absence of the top-ranked wrestler on this class, Japan’s Risako Kawai, Anshu will probably be up towards Nigeria’s Odunayo Adekuoroye and Giullia de Oliveira of Brazil, each ranked inside the highest 5.
The 74kg conundrum
Few weight classes have as a lot depth as the boys’s 74kg – though it may be debated if the Indian grapplers on this class can match overseas requirements. In Rome, the 74kg class will boast of 13 wrestlers who’ve six world titles, an Olympic gold and bronze, and 20 complete world medals between them.
This can also be a crowded weight class in India, with shut to 6 wrestlers within the fray for one Olympic berth. India had entered three grapplers for this competitors – Jitender, Narsingh Yadav and nationwide champion Sandeep Singh – however Jitender pulled out citing an harm. For Narsingh, this would be the first worldwide main competitors since coming back from his doping ban, whereas Sandeep will make his worldwide debut.
But in a weight class that has a few of the finest wrestlers on this planet, a possible bout between American Jordan Burroughs and Italy’s Frank Chamizo could possibly be the show-stopper. Burroughs’ offensive type has typically been countered remarkably by Chamizo’s sturdy defence, and Rome may see one other chapter unfold in what’s thought to be one of many best rivalries of the final decade.