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Grapplers face a Roman test before they push for Tokyo

Earlier this week, Bajrang Punia introduced he would take a sabbatical from social media till the tip of the Tokyo Olympics. Whereas the Video games may nonetheless be rather less than 150 days away, Bajrang’s resolution to go offline got here the night time 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 Match varies: for Bajrang, it is going to be the primary official competitors in a couple of 12 months; for Vinesh Phogat, it is going to be an opportunity to construct on her exceptional win in Kiev final weekend. And for the younger Anshu Malik, it is going to be an opportunity so as to add to her rising status.

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 may have been the primary main take a look at for the 2 wrestlers within the 12 months of the postponed Video games. However Ravi mentioned he injured his knee throughout 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 Worldwide final weekend. Regardless of being away from the mat for therefore 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 exceptional style.

Within the absence of wrestlers from ladies’s wrestling powerhouse Japan in addition to China, Vinesh might 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 because the Asian Championship in February final 12 months. Although he was away from competitors, Bajrang spent a few months in the US to coach, the place he additionally competed – and gained –an eight-man invitational event.

Rome, the place Bajrang is the defending champion, would put up a totally completely different problem. His nemesis Takuto Otoguro of Japan gained’t be current on the occasion, however the world quantity 2 will nonetheless face robust 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, might be a favorite to retain his title.

A chance for Sakshi, Anshu

Sakshi Malik, who has struggled to match the degrees that helped her win the bronze medal on the 2016 Olympics, can have one other alternative to type out her kind earlier than the Asian Olympic qualifiers subsequent month. The 28-year-old has been overtaken by teen Sonam Malik as India’s greatest guess within the 62kg weight class.

However 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 viewpoint, will solely be on Sakshi. And if she manages to eke out a podium end right here, it’ll act as an important confidence booster forward of the choice trials for the Asian Olympic qualifiers, that are more likely to be held later this month.

Rome will even be a chance for Anshu Malik (57kg class) so as to add to the thrill 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.

Within the absence of the top-ranked wrestler on this class, Japan’s Risako Kawai, Anshu might 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.

That is additionally 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 getting back from his doping ban, whereas Sandeep will make his worldwide debut.

However in a weight class that has a few of the greatest wrestlers on the earth, a possible bout between American Jordan Burroughs and Italy’s Frank Chamizo might be the show-stopper. Burroughs’ offensive model 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 biggest rivalries of the final decade.

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