Many Indian athletes heaved a sigh of relief last week when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games till the summer of 2021, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Apart from athletes, who were wary of the COVID-19 threat in Tokyo, the list also includes athletes who are yet to qualify for the quadrennial event and had their qualification events called off due to the fatal outbreak..
The list of relieved athletes from India also includes a certain Narsingh Pancham Yadav who has been handed a fresh lease of life, courtesy the deferment.
Yadav was handed a four-year ban by Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in August 2016 for failing a dope test. If the Olympics wasn’t postponed and held as per schedule in July-August this year, the dope-tainted wrestler wouldn’t have been able to compete as his ban ends only in July.
New Lease of Life
But it is a completely different scenario now. With more than a year to go for the Tokyo Games, Yadav will be eyeing to secure an Olympic quota in his favourite 74-kg category. And the way things stand now, it looks like the stars have aligned to make sure Yadav qualifies for the Tokyo Games.
Once dominated by two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, India is yet to book an Olympic spot in the 74-kg category. Yadav also has the backing of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), which has said that it won't stop the grappler from making a comeback.
“We will not stop him if he comes to us and says that he wants to compete. We have discussed it. After his ban period is over, he will be eligible for a comeback,” WFI Assistant Secretary Vinod Tomar told PTI.
In fact, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also clarified that athletes who have their doping ban ending in 2020 will eligible for qualification for the rescheduled Olympics in 2021.
Meanwhile, Jitendra Kumar has already sealed his place in the Indian contingent in the 74-kg category for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers after he won silver at the Asian Championships last year. This meant that Jitendra would get a direct qualification and there was no need for a re-trial against Kumar for a place in the qualifiers.
In the qualifiers, if Jitendra manages a second-place finish, it would be enough to dash all hopes of Kumar to qualify for his third Olympics.
But with Yadav now in the picture, things might not be that straight forward.
More than Jitender, it is Kumar who might have something to worry about, especially given his past history with Yadav. At this moment, Kumar is recuperating from a injury.
"“I always had the belief that if I have not done anything wrong, no wrong will happen with me. The truth always wins. Now you see by God’s grace, I have got this chance again out of nowhere.”" - Narsingh Yadav to PTI
Currently, Yadav is training in Mumbai with his coach Jagmal Singh. According to him, he always knew that he will get an opportunity to compete in Olympics.
“I don't know why, but I always had this feeling. I am completely focussed on my comeback and determined to win a medal at the Tokyo Games," he added.
If Yadav manages to qualify for the Olympics next year it wouldn’t be anything less than a miracle. Especially, if we keep in mind the events that preceded his ban.
The 31-year-old wrestler qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics after his bronze-medal finish at the World Championships in 2015. But Kumar, who missed the qualifiers due to injury, demanded a trial match against Yadav. He even filed an appeal at the Delhi High Court only to be rejected.
But with less than two months to go for the Rio Games, Yadav tested positive twice for a banned substance. Yadav went onto accuse Kumar of trying to sabotage his career – an allegation which was never proved.
While the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) gave him a clean chit, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) challenged the decision and the case was moved to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
One day before Yadav's first bout at the Olympics, he was handed a four-year ban.
The Silver Lining
Despite his time away from the mat, Yadav has continued his training and is well aware of the competition that awaits him.
"“I have kept an eye on all international wrestlers in my category. I know who is applying what technique, I keep watching their videos on Youtube. I am prepared to take them on. I kept myself in shape by competing in local ‘dangals’.”" - Narsingh Yadav
Planning to compete in the nationals first, Yadav is eager to make full use of the lifeline that has been provided to him. The 2010 Commonwealth gold medallist is not only sure that he would make it to Tokyo next year but is also confident of a podium finish.
“I am confident that not only will I qualify for the Olympics but also stand on the podium,” a confident Yadav declared.
(With inputs from PTI)
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