New Delhi: Happy to have ended India's 28-year-long wait for a wrestling gold at the recent Asian Games, star grappler Yogeshwar Dutt is now aiming for a yellow metal at next year's World Championships and thereby earn an automatic berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"Next year my main target will be the World Wrestling Championships. I have got medals in all, important tournaments except World Championships, so I would like to win a medal there and preferably a gold," Yogeshwar told PTI in an interview.
"World Championships will be the platform to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and if I win a medal there that would automatically guarantee a berth in the Olympic Games," he added.
To be held in Las Vegas in September next year, the World Wrestling Championships will serve as the first qualifying event for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In this event, the largest number of athletes will earn a spot in the Olympics.
Yogeshwar has won gold in all three tournaments -- International wrestling tournament in Sassari city, Italy, Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Asiad in Incheon -- after moving to a higher weight category of 65kg freestyle. He said the new weight division has suited him well.
"I have performed very well in this weight category. I am at a level now where I can say that I am among the best wrestlers in world in this division. I am at a level where I can win an Olympic gold.
"This category is suiting me well. In Italy, I defeated the world champion, while in CWG none of my bouts lasted more than two minutes. In Asian Games also I did well," said Yogeshwar, adding, "I am happy to have won a gold for my country after 28 years. It was a long wait."
The London Olympic bronze medallist admitted that he had faced some tough competition at the Asian Games.
"The bouts in Asian Games were very difficult. The grapplers of the Asian region are of the level of World and Olympics. I faced tough competition from North Korea, China and Tajikistan. Against the Chinese grappler in the semifinal round, the bout was a very closely-fought one," explained Yogeshwar.
The 31-year-old Yogeshwar said that the recent Games has boosted his confidence.
"These Games have boosted my confidence. I am now more confident of performing well at the Olympics," he insisted.
"Competition would only increase in the Olympics with wrestlers coming from Europe and USA also. But a lot of Olympic champions are from the Asian region and thus, these Games have helped me judge where I stand."
Talking about Indian wrestlers' overall performance in the Asian Games, Yogeshwar said they fell short by at least two medals.
"The other countries are also improving. Competition has increased. We have lost out on a couple of medals because of biased judging also I would say.
"We were expecting to win 4-5 medals in men's freestyle wrestling but we could end up winning just three. Sometimes luck doesn't go your way, as was the case with Amit Kumar in 57kg category. But we aimed for two medals in women's freestyle category and we achieved that. So overall I would say we did well," he said.
Asked why India wrestlers could not match the performance of 2010 edition of the Games in Greco-Roman category, Yogeshwar said, "Weight changes in Greco-Roman has affected our performance."
Yogeshwar said while his aim is to bag a medal at Rio Olympics, he would like to go step by step.
"I want to take it step by step. First, I would want to do well in the World Championships and then think about Rio Olympics," he stressed.
An injury-prone Yogeshwar said his plan was to compete in selected tournaments only next year.
"Asian Championship is also there before the World Championships but I may not compete there. Firstly, because I want to save myself from injuries and secondly, food is a problem in a lot of countries. This time in South Korea, I faced a lot of problems as far as food was concerned, as it is difficult to get vegetarian food there. I have become weak.
"Next year, I will select tournaments keeping in mind a few things," he concluded.