National champion Sandeep Singh Mann and Sonam Malik will be the star Indian attractions when they take the mat at the Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers in Kazakhstan on April 9. A total of Olympic 14 spots will be on offer, including six in Greco-Roman, five in women, and three in the men’s freestyle events.
The highest number of Indian wrestlers at an Olympics was eight in the 2016 Rio Games. But with four already qualified this time for the Tokyo Olympics, India can expect to surpass their previous tally if everything goes according to plan at Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports.
In case any wrestler fails to make the Tokyo Olympics cut from the Asian Qualifiers, they will have another chance at the World Qualifiers in Bulgaria from May 6 to 9.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya (57kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), Deepak Punia (86kg) and Vinesh Phogat (women’s 53kg) have so far booked their Tokyo Olympics berths from India.
All eyes on Sandeep Singh Mann in the 74kg category
With Sushil Kumar opting out and Narsingh Yadav beaten in the trials last month, all eyes will be on Sandeep Singh Mann in the 74kg category. The 21-year-old has been in red-hot form in recent times, winning the Nationals and beating the likes of World Championship medallist Yadav and former Asian champion Amit Dhankar in the trials.
On April 11, Sandeep will face stiff competition from World Championship and Asian Games medallist Bekzod Abdurakhmonov of Uzbekistan. 2012 London Olympian Lee Seung-chul and the 2018 Asian Games bronze medallist Gong Byung-min are also in the fray.
Asian and World Championships medallist Adam Batirov of Bahrain and 2016 World Championship bronze medallist Elaman Uulu Dogdurbek of Kazakhstan are also in the same category.
In the 97kg category, Satyawart Kadiyan will have his task cut out with 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Magomed Idrisovitch Ibragimov in the mix.
Sonam Malik to spearhead Indian charge among women
Sonam Malik will lead the Indian charge in the women's category. The youngster has had a terrific run this year, beating 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik in the 62 kg category twice – in the senior Nationals and the trials.
The road to Tokyo won’t be easy for Sonam Malik as she will have two-time Asian Championships medallist and local hope Ayaulym Kassymova, former world champion Sükhee Tserenchimed of Mongolia and Uzbekistan’s Nabira Esenbaeva, in the mix.
In the women’s 50kg category, the wrestlers will be divided into two groups with the winners grabbing the tickets to Tokyo.
In the Greco-Roman category, Gurpreet Singh (77kg) and Sunil Kumar (87kg) will lead the Indian charge. Sunil Kumar won the 2020 Asian title while Gurpreet Singh was a Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event winner last year.
Indian squad at Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers
Men’s Freestyle: Sandeep Singh Mann (74kg), Satyawart Kadian (97kg), Sumit Malik (125kg)
Greco-Roman: Gyaneder (60kg), Ashu (67kg), Gurpreet Singh (77kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Ravi (97kg), Naveen (130kg).
Women: Seema Bisla (50kg), Anshu Malik (57kg), Sonam Malik (62kg), Nisha Dahiya (68kg), Pooja Sihag (76kg).