Given the opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo Games at the end of his international career, veteran wrestler Amit Dankar would come out when he took the mat along with 11 other Indians at the World Olympic qualifiers, starting in the Bulgarian capital here on Thursday.
The 32-year-old Dankar is a three-time British community champion, but missed the big tickets because throughout his career he struggled to get past Yogeshwar Dutt in the 66kg category.
His last big performance was a show with a silver medal up to 74 kg at the 2019 Asian Championships in Xi’an, China. His hopes of cutting the Tokyo Games were dashed when he lost the test, but as national champion Sandyph Singh Man came to a culture of Asian qualifying in Almaty, the national federation gave Dankar a chance to compete in Sofia.
Dankar had finished second in the tests. This is the last chance for all wrestlers in the world to qualify for the postponed games in Tokyo.
Up to seven Olympic medalists will take part in the battle in various categories of this event, where the two finalists will make the match for the Games. Dankar would desperately take full advantage of the chance, but his journey will be difficult as the 74kg brace is full of 36 wrestlers, including Rio Olympic bronze medalist Soner Demirtas of Turkey, world champion Hetik Kabolov of Serbia and European champion of Slovakia Taimuraz Salkazanov.
Adding to the challenge will be the African champion from Nigeria, Ogbona John, the Asian champion from Kyrgyzstan Arsalan Budazhapov and the European champion from Belarus Mohamedhabib Qajidahamedau.
Dankar is nimble on the mat, but his opponents are better at the craft and that’s what will change.
The other free Indians in the fight are the 2018 CWG champion Sumit Malik (125 kg), who recently got married, and Sativart Kadian (97 kg). Malik had a great chance to qualify from the event in Almaty, but wasted the opportunity. He is still India’s best hope in this category and it will come as no surprise if Malik sneaks in.
In the women’s competition Seema Bisla (50 kg) will be the best bet in India. Since Vinesh Phogat moved into the 53kg category, Seema has shown promise.
Winning a bronze medal at the recent Asian Championships must have boosted her confidence. Nisha (68 kg) and Puja (76 kg) have also just started their journey on the senior track at the international level and will win only by competing. Puja did not give up easily and recently won bronze at both Asian events in Almaty.
Among the Indian wrestlers Greco Rome, all eyes will be on the hard-working Asian champion Gurprit Singh (77 kg). Sachin Rana (60 kg), Aashu (67 kg), Sunil (87 kg), Deipanshu (97 kg) and Navin Kumar (130 kg) complete the team.
So far, six Indian wrestlers have qualified for the Tokyo Games. In the men’s freestyle, Ravi Dahia (57 kg), Byrang Punia (65 kg) and Deepak Punia (86 kg) made the cut, while Vinesh Fogat (53 kg), Anshu Malik (57 kg) and Sonam Malik (62 kg) ) ranked in the women’s category.