A young and ambitious challenger and a veteran of many a battle will lead India’s quest on a busy day at the Asian Games wrestling on Sunday.
Bajrang Punia, the Commonwealth Games champion, will be targeting his maiden gold in the continental competition in the 65kg class while Sushil Kumar, two-time Olympic medallist, too has the same desire, in the 74kg category.
With just one gold, one silver and three bronze medals, India had a largely disappointing time at Incheon 2014. Bajrang was one of the medallists, claiming a silver in the 61kg class.
Since then, the 24-year-old has risen to be one of the top grapplers in the continent. He is the Commonwealth Games champion and has expressed his desire to emulate his mentor Yogeshwar Dutt, the lone gold medallist for India last time, in the 65kg class.
Bajrang will open against Uzbekistan’s Sirojiddin Khasanov. The Indian had beaten Khasanov in the qualifying round of last year’s Asian Championships in New Delhi and he will be hoping to maintain his hold over the Uzbek.
Sushil, who doesn’t have an Asiad gold in his glittering career, has had a difficult time coming back but he was a cut above at the Commonwealth Games. Asian Games will be far more challenging and the draw too isn’t in his favour.
Sandeep Kumar in the 57 kg class, Pakan Kumar (86 kg) and Mausam Khatri (97kg) are the other Indians who will fight it out on the opening day.
The women’s events start on Monday with Vinesh Phogat being India’s biggest hope. Back after a training stint in Hungary, Vinesh will be up against the strong Chinese and Japanese wrestlers in the 50kg class.
A bronze medallist in 48kg in Incheon, Vinesh had picked up a silver in the Asian Championships in 50kg this year and will be riding on the confidence gained from a successful Commonwealth Games campaign.