Asian Games: Vishal wins trials in Bajrang’s division, Ravi Dahiya ousted

His right eye swollen by an impact injury, his lower lip chipped and his cauliflower ears scarred, winner Vishal Kaliraman was battered and bruised by the time the final whistle was blown. That though didn’t deter the 25-year-old from expressing his thoughts on the selection fracas surrounding Indian wrestling.

Vishal Kaliraman (Red Jersey) win men’s 65kg category match during the Asian Games 2023 wrestling trials, at IG Stadium in New Delhi.(Hindustan Times)

“I think I deserve to compete at the Asian Games. If I get a chance, I will come back with a gold medal,” Kaliraman said after booking his berth as a standby for the September-October Games. The ad hoc committee running wrestling has exempted Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist and 2018 Asian Games champion Bajrang Punia from the trials, meaning the 29-year-old who last competed 10 months ago will head to Hangzhou as an automatic selection in Kaliraman’s division (65kg).

Kaliraman, who hails from Sisar village in Haryana’s Hisar district, beat Services’ Rohit Gulia 7-3 to stamp his class in the 17-man field. In Punia’s absence, all eyes were on Sujeet Kalkal, who along with Antim Panghal (women’s 53kg trials winner) had petitioned the Delhi high court opposing the exemption to Punia and Vinesh Phogat. The court dismissed their plea on Saturday. Then, there was the talented Anuj Kumar, who too had taken the Delhi HC route four months back to earn a place in the Asian Championships team.

While Kalkal and Kumar lost their respective semi-finals, Kaliraman set aside an eye injury in his opening bout to thump Services’ Akash Dahiya (10-2), Haryana’s Ravinder (6-3) and Haryana’s Rohit (6-3) before beating Gulia in the decider.

Kaliraman though is already focused on next month’s trials for the World Championships. “It will be tough because we will head into another gruelling weight management cycle. I hear everyone will have to turn up for those trials, so I am really looking forward to it,” he said.

“As far as these trials are concerned, I was always against the exemptions. Why is someone who hasn’t competed for so long getting a free pass while I have to play 4-5 testing bouts in a day to earn my place as a standby?”

While Antim Panghal, post winning her trial on Saturday, said she will approach the Supreme Court in appeal, Kaliraman said he too won’t back down from a legal battle. “The Delhi HC petition was forwarded by Antim and Sujeet, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have my support. I respect Bajrang and Vinesh as seniors but what is happening is not fair. If needed, I too will approach the highest court to get justice,” he said.

Kaliraman’s parents – Subhash Chandra and Rajbala – were in the stands to witness their son’s bouts. The couple was part of the 150-odd persons who protested outside the IOA office this week. Subhash said he had also visited Bajrang and Vinesh at their Jantar Mantar sit-in protest in April-May.

“I was with them because they said they were fighting for the future of wrestling. Now, it appears they were fighting only for themselves. Do you save wrestling’s future by denying youngsters a fair chance?” Subhash sobbed.

Kalkal’s father-cum-coach Dayanand said the legal battle cost his 21-year-old son. “He didn’t train since Friday. Ever since we went to court, his focus was not there. I don’t think we will pursue this matter in court now. It took a toll on him emotionally and on me financially. We will come back stronger for the Worlds trials,” he said after his son’s 8-2 semi-final loss to Gulia.

Ravi Dahiya shocked

Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Ravi Dahiya (57kg) endured a shock first-round exit to Maharashtra’s Atish Todkar. Still recovering from a knee injury, Dahiya was no match for Todkar’s pace as he repeatedly countered him to score points at will.

At one point, Todkar had an incredible 20-8 lead before he proceeded to pin his celebrated rival. Todkar’s dream run ended in the semis when Delhi’s Rahul beat him 12-0 to set up a final with his Chhatrasal akhada mate Aman Sehrawat.

Sehrawat, the Asian Championships gold medallist, was tested by Rahul Aware in his opening bout but soon found his groove to coast to the final which he aced 9-2 to seal the spot for his maiden Asian Games.

Men’s squad: Aman Sehrawat (57kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg*), Yash (74kg), Deepak Punia (86kg), Vicky (97kg), Sumit (125kg). *Vishal Kaliraman (65kg) makes the team as standb

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