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Asian wrestling C'ship to test best in Asia ahead of Oly
New Delhi, Feb 17 - Sans Chinese wrestlers who have been denied visas for the Asian Championships that will begin on Tuesday, all eyes will be on the Olympic-bound grapplers when the meet gets underway at the KD Jadhav Wrestling Stadium here.
The Asian Wrestling Championship, to be held from February 18-23, will act as the perfect platform to test the best in Asia ahead of the much-awaited Olympics later this year.
The championship has been classified as a ranking tournament for the Tokyo Olympics as announced by United World Wrestling - the global governing body for the sport.
One of the dark horses of the tournament will be India's Sakshi Malik (65 kg) who hasn't had the greatest 2019. While she isn't competing in her regular weight category she could utilize this tournament as an opportunity for redemption.
World No.2 and India's leading medal hope, Bajrang Punia spoke before the tournament and said: "It is a great opportunity for all of us. We will be playing in front of our home fans. Though to many it might seem as pressure, but I believe it will work as an advantage and I am hopeful that large numbers will be coming in to fill the stands and support us."
Ravi Kumar Dahiya who has already qualified for the Olympics courtesy his bronze medal-winning performance at the 2019 World Championships and is a product of Delhi's Chattrasal stadium echoed Bajrang's feelings and said: "We are very excited about the tournament. I am personally looking at ensuring that in my weight category I end up winning gold. 57 kg is a tough weight category and has probably the stiffest competition but losing isn't an option when you are playing in your home ground."
Fresh from her gold medal at the Ranking Series in Italy, Vinesh Phogat is India's brightest medal prospect in the women's category.
"We have a very strong contingent that is taking part in both the men and women category. Asia has a very good set of wrestlers and being the Olympic year everyone will be looking to get as many wins as possible heading into the quadrennial sporting extravaganza.
"Personally, I am looking at this competition as a launch-pad for my upcoming competitions," said Vinesh.
The tournament will be played in three categories: Men's Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Women's Wrestling.
Team India will be represented by a 30 member squad with Deepak Punia, Dahiya, Bajrang, and Vinesh leading the pack.
Anshu Malik, Ashu, and Sonam Malik are three youngsters who would look forward to making a mark in this year's tournament.
The Senior Asian Championship will return to India after a gap of two years. India last hosted the championships in 2017. The 2018 edition was held at Bishtek, Kyrgyzstan and in 2019, Xi'an province of China. India won 16 medals overall in the last edition including a lone gold by Bajrang Punia who defeated Kazakhstan's Sayatbek Okassov in the 65 kg category final.
Apart from the Indians, there will be a number of international wrestlers as well who will be key in their respective weight categories like Kenichiro Fumita, gold medallist at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships, and Nurislam Sanayev from Kazakhstan in freestyle. In Greco-Roman, wrestlers like Ryu Han Su from South Korea, a two-time world champion; Elmurat Tasmuradov of Uzbekistan - five-time Asian Championship gold medallist - will attract eyeballs.
Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan, winner of a gold medal at the 2019 world championships and a three-time Asian Championship winner, will be headlining the women's wrestling category.
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