Three years after he last took part in a competitive wrestling bout, Sushil Kumar is all set to make a comeback to active competition. On November 17, the double Olympic medallist will participate in the 74kg freestyle category at the Wrestling Nationals in Indore.
Sushil's return has been long awaited. Following his gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he was expected to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics. However, those plans fell apart after Narsingh Yadav secured an Olympics quota place in the 74kg freestyle category in 2015. Sushil had demanded a trial between him and Narsingh in order to claim the Olympic quota. Sushil would also approach the courts demanding a trial, but was denied. The issue had snowballed into a major controversy that ended with neither wrestler going to the Olympics.
One of the reasons given by the national federation for denying him was the fact that he had been inactive for a long period of time. Indeed, Wrestling Federation of India officials have made it clear that only athletes who compete at the nationals will be eligible to be considered for selections for next year's Commonwealth and Asian games.
It is to avoid such a scenario that Sushil, with likely an eye on competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, is returning to the mat. If he wins the national championships he is also expected to compete at next month's Commonwealth Championships and next year's Pro Wrestling Championships.
And while Sushil's comeback -- he will be competing in his first Nationals since the 2008 Gonda event -- is expected to be the highlight of the Indore Nationals, much will depend on the kind of competition the 34-year-old faces at the Abhay Prashal Indoor Stadium. Sushil, who had been training under former national coach Vladimir Merstervishvili, headed back to India last Saturday in order to compete at the selection trials for the Railways team. At the trials, not a single wrestler opted to compete against him. If junior national champion Dinesh gave a walkover, former Asian championship bronze medallist Parveen Rana never even showed up for the trials.
None of this matters to Sushil. While he might have once been expected to simply walk into any Indian team, he isn't taking any chance this time around. And even if he does face competition, he is confident of doing well. "I do not want any controversy this time," he has said. "I will wrestle the way I used to wrestle before. The new wrestlers are good but I believe in my ability."