Grappler will be India's best bet to win a gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games
New Delhi: With the untimely pull out of two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, all eyes will be on London Games bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt as India will be hoping to break a 28-year-long wait for a gold medal in wrestling at the 17th Asian Games that get underway tomorrow in Incheon.
Yogeshwar Dutt celebrates after clinching the gold medal match at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Pic/AFP
It is the second consecutive time that Sushil has decided to skip the Asian Games — this time with an eye to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In the absence of Sushil the onus for winning gold will be on his childhood buddy Yogeshwar, who had also won the gold medal in Glasgow.
Kartar Singh was the last Indian to win gold in Asiad wrestling — in 1986 in Seoul — and now all eyes will be on Yogeshwar, in the freestyle 65 kg category, to end the wait for a long-overdue gold.
Yogeshwar, who had also skipped the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, had won the bronze in the 2006 Doha Asian Games.
India's wrestling squad consists of 18 contestants — seven freestyle, seven Greco-Roman and four women.
This year, the India Greco-Roman contingent is particularly strong boasting the likes of five-time Commonwealth champion and Asian Games bronze medallist Ravinder Singh, Asian champion Krishan Kumar Yadav, World Championship bronze winner Sandeep Yadav and Asian Championship bronze medallist Manoj Kumar.
Hopes are also pinned on Amit Kumar — fresh from his Glasgow success in the 57 kg category. World No 5 Narsingh Yadav has big shoes to fill as he will replace Sushil Kumar in the 74 kg category.
Meanwhile, Glasgow silver medallist Bajrang Punia (61kg), bronze medallist Pawan Kumar (86kg) and silver medallist Satyavrat Kadiyan (97kg) complete the line-up in the freestyle category and all three are expected to mount a serious challenge for the gold medal.
In the women's section, hopes are high from Vinesh Phogat (48 kg), Babita Kumari (55 kg), Geetika Jakhar (63 kg) and Jyoti (75 kg). But amidst all the optimism, the wrestling team's medal-less performance in the World Championships provides a grim reminder of the stiff challenge they will encounter in the Asiad.
The last time India won a gold medal in wrestling at the Asian Games — 28 years ago