New Delhi: Jitender Kumar sealed his place in the Indian team for the Olympic Qualifiers with a silver medal at the Asian Championship here on Sunday, a result that could slam the Tokyo Games door on veteran Sushil Kumar.
Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil had skipped the continental event citing an injury.
A gold eluded India on the second day of the men's freestyle competition with Deepak Punia (86kg) and Rahul Aware (61kg) finishing with bronze medals.
Up against Kazakhstan's Daniyar Kaisanov, Jitender showed tremendous defensive skill, but was lacking in attack. The Indian lost 1-3 to the defending champion.
However, his performance was enough to convince the national federation that he should travel to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for the Olympic Qualifiers, without a re-trial.
It means that Sushil, who also competes in 74kg, will have to wait and see how Jitender fares in Bishkek, where the finalists will directly qualify for the Tokyo Games.
If Jitender reaches the gold medal bout there, it will affect the prospect of Sushil, who has been struggling since the 2018 Asian Games.
If Jitender fails to seal an Olympic quota in Bishkek, the last chance would be through a World qualifying event in April.
"I tried one move towards the end but could not execute it properly, it could have got me the gold. There are improvements in the my game and it could be seen. This silver is special. Now I will try harder to get Olympic quota," said Jitender.
His attacking moves from a distance were not good enough to get a good grip on his rivals. Largely, he was defending from standing position.
In fact, in the semifinal against his Mongolian opponent, all three points were scored on passivity and the bouts lacked flare.
Before that, Jitender had won his qualification bout rather easily but just about managed to win his following bouts against Iran's Mostafa Mohabbali Hosseinkhani (2-2) and Mongolia's Sumiyabazar Zandanbud (2-1).
"We will not have trials in any category in men's free style. We will see how our wrestlers perform in Bishkek," Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said.
Much to the disappointment of the home fans, world championship silver medallist Deepak lost his 86kg semifinal to Japan's Shutaro Yamada.
His style was identical to Jitender's and his moves from distance did not yield the desired result.
Against Yamada, the only points he scored from a takedown were removed after a successful challenge from his opponent's camp.
In the fight for bronze against Issa Abdulsalam Abdulwahhab Al Obaidi, the Indian looked a different man, winning it easily. He defated his Iraqi rival by technical superiority.
"I had not trained enough because of an injury I suffered during training after I arrived in India from Russia. I had six stitched just above my right eye," Deepak, who won a silver at 2019 Worlds, said.
In the non-Olympic 61kg category, Rahul, who won a bronze at the Worlds in Nur Sultan, paid the price for being overconfident as his unnecessary challenges cost him dearly.
His movement was terrific and so were his attacks but untimely challenges resulted in him losing points in both the quarterfinal and semifinal.
In a fast-paced, high-scoring quarterfinal bout against Uzbekistan's Jahongirmirza Turobov, Rahul won 11-9, largely because of his superior defence.
The Pune grappler lost his semifinal to Kyrgyzstan's Ulukbek Zholdoshbekov 3-5.
He won bronze after downing Iran's Majid Almas Dastan 4-2 in an exciting bout.
In the 125kg, Satender won his qualification bout but later lost his quarterfinal and repechage rounds.
In the 92kg, Somveer's challenge lasted just 24 seconds against his Uzbek rival Ajiniyaz Saparniyazov.