Q You qualified for the men’s 57-kg freestyle category in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in the backdrop of the controversy generated over the non-inclusion of Rahul Aware, who had won a bronze medal at the Astana Olympic Qualifying Event – your thoughts
Well, my federation (Wrestling Federation of India) gave me a responsibility to win an Olympic quota for my country at Mongolia, and I was really happy to have made the Olympic cut.
Q How optimistic you are about your medal-winning chances at the Rio Olympics?
I want to assure all that I will win a medal at Rio. I have been working hard and strictly following what my coaches have been telling me, in terms of working on my shortfalls. I’m confident of pulling off a solid performance in Rio.
Q At the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Event in Mongolia, you had to battle past five rounds before winning an Olympic quota place. How would you sum your overall performance in Mongolia?
All the bouts were good – I beat a Turkish opponent in the first round and then went on to outwrestle a Kyrgyzstan grappler, who is an Asian championship bronze medallist. My semifinal against Azerbaijan’s Mirjalal Hasanzada went right down to the wire – he took the final two points after trailing 0-6 to win the bout as the one who wins the last point goes through. The Ukrainian I beat in the bronze medal play-off bout is a world junior champion. I had to be at my best to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
Q 2016 has been a good year for you so far – besides this Olympic quota place you also won the gold medal at the 2016 Asian Championship in Bangkok.
You could say that – the 2016 Asian Championship was a big tournament for me – I beat North Korea’s Jong Hak-jin to clinch the gold medal. That performance really helped my confidence in the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers.
Q Traditionally, a wrestler who wins the quota gets to represent the country in that weight category. Your thoughts.
I don’t want to say anything – our federation will take a call on whether to allow the quota winner to play in the Olympics or conduct trials.
Q Who do you think will be biggest contenders in the 57-kg?
Wrestlers from Russia, Georgia, Iran and Mongolia are really strong and I’m expecting a stiff fight from them in Rio.
Q There is a general feeling that there is fierce competition in the men’s freestyle 57-kg category with the likes of Amit Kumar Dahiya and Rahul Aware around. What’s your take?
Robust competition is always good for any wrestler – I think it ensures every wrestler is on their toes with little room for complacency.
Q You work in the Indian Navy – how much of a support system they have been your wrestling career?
Indian Navy has been a pillar of support for me. I really feel grateful to Indian Navy for all the supported provided to me.
Q How many medals do you will think the Indian wrestling contingent can get at the Rio Olympics?
India will be fielding a big contingent – 8 wrestlers – after a long time – we had seven in 2004 Olympics – I’m confident that India can win 4-5 medals in Rio.