Wrestlers Deepak Punia and Sujeet Kalkal were stranded at Dubai Airport for 2 days, sleeping on floors

Deepak Punia

Indian wrestlers Deepak Punia and Sujeet Kalkal found themselves in an unexpected predicament at the Dubai International Airport due to unprecedented floods caused by heavy rainfall. Stranded since Tuesday, April 16, 2024, the wrestlers were forced to train at the airport while sleeping on the terminal floor.

Deepak Punia, a Paris Olympics medal hopeful in the 86 kg category, and Sujeet Kalkal, competing in the 65 kg weight class, were en route to Bishkek for the Asian Olympic Qualifying tournament. Their journey was disrupted due to the record rainfall that led to floods and caused severe disruption.

The duo’s bouts were scheduled for Friday, with the weigh-in at 8 am local time. However, the unforeseen circumstances put their participation in the tournament in serious doubt. The wrestlers, accompanied by their Russian coach Kamal Malikov and physio Shubham Gupta, faced uncertainty about their travel arrangements.

Deepak Punia and Sujeet Kalkal stuck at Dubai Airport

According to Sujeet Kalkal’s father, Dayanand, the wrestlers were hoping to get a late-night flight from Dubai, which – if it departs – would ensure they reach Bishkek at around 4.30 am local time. This would allow them to appear for the weigh-in at 8 am and participate in their bouts later in the day.

“At least then they will be able to appear for the weigh-in at 8 and participate in their bouts later in the day,” Dayanand told The Indian Express. “But it’s a tense situation. I am worried for their well-being.”

However, concerns lingered regarding their physical and mental preparedness, given the lack of proper rest and nutrition. They had been sleeping on the floor of the terminal and had not been able to eat proper food. The situation was described as terrible.

Sujeet Kalkal
Sujeet Kalkal

While the other Indian wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, left for Bishkek directly from Delhi, Punia and Kalkal were travelling by themselves. The duo was training in Dagestan, Russia, from April 2 to 15. On April 16, they took a flight from Makachkala to Bishkek via Dubai, which was booked by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

Punia, who narrowly missed out on a bronze medal at the Tokyo Games, is one of the biggest contenders to earn a qualification quota for the Paris Olympics from the tournament in Bishkek, which is the first of the last two chances for wrestlers to earn spots for their nations.

This was the first major tournament for Kalkal, who made the cut in a weight class in which Bajrang Punia won a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

The challenge for both wrestlers, even if they reach Bishkek in time for their bouts, will be to ensure they can cut weight and remain eligible to take part

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