India’s decorated wrestler Sushil Kumar’s hopes of representing the country at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics received a setback as Jitender Kumar won the 74-kg trials at the Asian Championships in Italy on Friday. Jitender prevailed 5-2 in the final against Amit Dhankar, whereas Sushil had pulled out of the trails due to a hand injury.

Despite a plea to the Wrestling Federation of India, the parent body denied Sushil’s request to postpone the event, and Jitender cashed in by winning the most competitive category of the day.

“I have worked on my attacking game in the last few months. Mentally too, I am better after working with Shako Bentinidis (Bajrang Punia’s coach). I have curbed this habit of wiping out the leads later on in the second period,” said Jitender after the win.

The improvement in Jitender’s game was also highlighted by his coach, who said it was important for the wrestler to overcome mental blockage of competing against bigger and more experienced wrestlers.

“We prepared him to be aggressive from the beginning. He was asked to practice short sprint (20m, 10m) for increased speed,” the coach said. “He was also asked to make ‘holds’ carefully and strong. The defeat against Sushil in the World trials had hurt us all. But he needs to improve more to stand a chance to get Olympic qualification slot. He can do it, we are confident.”

Sushil had also suffered a shoulder injury earlier which kept him away from the action after his first-round exit from World Wrestling Championship in 2019. That said, the two-time Olympic medal winner, might get another chance in March to book a spot in India’s Wrestling squad the Tokyo Games.

Sushil had beaten Jitender in a bitterly-fought trial bout for the World Championships in September 2019. The WFI has made it clear that if Jitender does well in the upcoming two events, Sushil won’t be considered. The win has narrowed Sushil’s chances all right, but Jitender will still have to impress the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) with medal-winning performances in Rome and New Delhi.

“If we find that performance of our wrestlers is not satisfying at the first two events, we can have fresh trials to select wrestlers for the Asian Olympic qualifier. We want to send our best wrestlers, so that India can have maximum number of quotas for the Olympics,” WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan told PTI.

“If we are happy with performance of our wrestlers in Olympic categories, where we have not got the quota, we will not have trials. As for Sushil, no one will be allowed to go for Olympic qualifiers, without having to compete in trials. He said he is injured, so we have to believe in him,” he added.