All eyes on Ba­jrang and Vi­nesh

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Sport -

Nur-Sul­tan: A re­al­ity check awaits In­dia’s top wrestlers at the World Cham­pi­onships where they will chase not only glory but also Tokyo Olympics qual­i­fi­ca­tion, here from Satur­day.

The run-up to the Worlds has been spec­tac­u­lar for Ba­jrang Pu­nia and Vi­nesh Phogat while de­cent re­sults have pro­vided a dose of con­fi­dence to a few oth­ers like Divya Kakran. Ba­jrang tri­umphed at all four events he com­peted this sea­son -- Dan Kolov, Asian Cham­pi­onship Ali Aliev and Yasar Dogu -- and will go into the Cham­pi­onships as the world num­ber one and top seed in 65kg.

For Vi­nesh, the sea­son be­gan in a new weight cat­e­gory as she moved up to 53kg from 50kg.

She took some time to set­tle in her new class but still made five fi­nals, win­ning three golds Yasar Dogu, Grand Prix of Spain and Poland Open. While skill is not an is­sue with Vi­nesh, hold­ing off strong can­di­dates for six min­utes is a big chal­lenge, she her­self had ad­mit­ted re­cently.

The big-stage com­pe­ti­tion will help her make an as­sess­ment on this count as she eyes a maiden Worlds medal. A last-minute el­bow in­jury had forced her to optout of the Bu­dapest Cham­pi­onships last year.

No In­dian woman has ever won a gold at the Worlds and Vi­nesh has it in her to end In­dia’s drought. Ba­jrang has been in the form of his life but there is a chink in his ar­mour the weak leg de­fence and it will surely be tested.

Only Sushil Ku­mar has won a World ti­tle in men’s freestyle in In­dia’s wrestling his­tory and Ba­jrang would be keen to end In­dia’s wait for a sec­ond medal.

The 25-year-old him­self has two World Cham­pi­onship medals but not a gold. His road though is full of chal­lenges with the pres­ence of Rus­sian Gadzhimu­rad Rashidov and Bahrain’s Haji Mo­hammed Ali in his cat­e­gory.

Two-time Olympic medal­list Sushil has been strug­gling of late and is re­turn­ing to the Worlds af­ter a gap of eight years.

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