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Sujeet Kalkal, the reigning U23 Asian champion, expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) ad-hoc committee to grant direct entry to Bajrang Punia for the Asian Games. According to Kalkal, this decision is unfair to the next generation of wrestlers who aspire to become Olympic champions. The IOA panel, led by Bhupender Singh Bajwa, exempted Bajrang Punia (65kg freestyle) and Vinesh Phogat (53kg) from the Asian Games trials scheduled for July 22-23.
Kalkal, a U20 world championship bronze medalist, argued that there are several wrestlers in the 65kg freestyle category capable of defeating Bajrang Punia. He/she cited his/her own close match against Bajrang during the Commonwealth Games trials in Birmingham, where Bajrang received a direct entry to the semifinals, while others had to participate in all bouts.
As evidence of his/her point, Kalkal highlighted a recent victory over American wrestler John Michael Diakomihalis with a comprehensive 8-2 score. Notably, Bajrang had previously lost to the same wrestler by technical superiority in the World Championships last year.
Kalkal further mentioned that for the 2022 World Championships, Bajrang was also given entry to compete without trials, which he/she believes should be reconsidered. In a World Ranking series event held in Tunis in July 2022, Kalkal emerged victorious against the American wrestler Yianni Diakomihalis, whom Bajrang had lost to 0-10.
Kalkal stressed that he/she is not the only wrestler capable of defeating Bajrang and that there are at least 5-6 wrestlers in the same weight category who have the potential to beat him. Therefore, he/she emphasized the importance of providing equal opportunities to all wrestlers and conducting fair trials.
While acknowledging the achievements of wrestlers like Bajrang and Vinesh, Kalkal also expressed concern about their direct entries potentially hindering the dreams of aspiring wrestlers to become Olympic champions.
The Asian Games are scheduled to commence in Hangzhou, China, on September 23.
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