He once grappled with Olympic bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt for a ticket to the Asian Olympic qualifiers — a qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Now, Amit Kumar Dhankar could find himself crossing paths with two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar in the next few months in the 74kg weight class after moving up weight classes last year.
Dhankar's original category was 65kg, but he made the shift last year at a dangal organised by the Haryana government. He has since won the Nationals at Gonda in November-December 2018, where Sushil did not participate and will represent India in the 74kg event at the Asian Wrestling Championships, which begin on Tuesday in Xi'an, China. Dhankar had won a gold medal in the 66kg weight class at the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championships.
Dhankar says his shift to the 74kg is due to the United World Wresting's recent rule change which mandates that the weigh-in for a wrestler should happen two hours before bouts in that category begin. Earlier, weigh-ins would happen a day before, which allowed grapplers to cut down weight drastically in order to conform to the limit and still recover in time for the bout the following day.
"I used to lose around seven to eight kgs to make the weight while I was in 65kg. I had to start losing weight weeks before the weigh-in. Then I would recover my strength in time for the bouts the following day. But I would still feel weak and that would affect my performances on the mat. You can say I was wrestling at 50 or 60 percent of my ability on the mat. I just couldn't give my best," Dhankar told Firstpost just before flying out for the Asian Championships. "But after this rule change, dropping weight and regaining it in hours became impossible!"
The rule change has also seen Vinesh Phogat move up to the 53kg weight class and Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakhshi Malik move to the 62kg category.
The advice to move up to 74kg, Dhankar reveals, came from Sushil himself. Since both wrestlers are from the Chhatrasal Akhara, run by Mahabali Satpal, Dhankar says he has great respect for Sushil.
"I've never fought competitively against Sushil, but we've seen how we train since we come from the same akhara. He's a great wrestler," said Dhankar while expertly deflecting from the question of how the move will put him in competition against Sushil for the 74kg spot. The weight class already has Parveen Rana, who will be competing in 79kg at the Asian Championships, which is not an Olympic category. The closest category Rana could look at for Tokyo 2020 is 86kg should he — like many other wrestlers like Vinesh, Sakshi and Dhankar — find it difficult to make weight due to the changed rules.
Dhankar said that he was not particularly fazed by the prospect of facing Rana.
"I faced him a few times in the Pro Wrestling League and beat him. So it is not that difficult," he said.
The 74kg weight class has always been one making the biggest headlines in the past few years. Before Rio Olympics, wrestling legend Sushil and World Championship bronze medallist Narsingh Yadav publically tussled over the 74kg berth for the Olympics. Narsingh, who won the quota with a bronze medal at the Las Vegas World Championships, claimed that he deserved to go to Rio due to the Wrestling Federation of India's parampara (tradition) of sending the wrestler who won the quota, while Sushil exhorted the federation to hold trials for the spot.
The drama hit fever pitch when Narsingh failed dope tests for methandienone. He claimed his food had been spiked by his rivals, a theory which has since been shot down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Central Bureau of Investigation. Eventually, Narsingh was banned for four years for failing multiple dope tests — a ban which is still active.
With Narsingh gone, Rana became the top challenger for Sushil. While Rana let Sushil become the National champion in 2017 by conceding a walkover after touching his adversary's feet, he chose to fight Sushil in the final of the trials for the Commonwealth Games. The bout ended with Sushil winning, but there was controversy after both wrestlers' supporters traded blows. Rana, who incidentally also learned the nuances of the sport at the Chhatrasal Akhara, even alleged that Sushil's supporters had roughed up his brother and tried to intimidate him, which led to an FIR being registered against the two-time Olympic medallist.
How the race for the 74kg spot for Tokyo Olympics pans out remains to be seen, with the World Championships in September being the first event to offer a quota spot for the Tokyo Olympics.
Despite enduring an indifferent year in 2018 — one which saw him win gold at the Commonwealth Game, but losing in the first round at the Asian Games to Bahrain's Adam Batirov — Sushil has made his intentions of competing at the Tokyo Olympics clear.
"I'm sure if I do well at the Asian Championships, I will be sent for the World Championships as well," said Dhankar, who is not afraid of making headlines, having dragged Yogeshwar to court in 2014 claiming favouritism after he was dropped from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games squad.
Should he win gold at the Asian Championships, expect more headlines.
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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 09:01:00 IST