It’s the Olympic year and, as usual, Indian sports fans will be looking forward to this quadrennial extravaganza with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Not much has changed since London 2012, with a nation of a billion plus still nursing expectations only from a handful of games namely Badminton, Boxing, Shooting and of course Wrestling.
Ever since London, there have been honest endeavors from non-profit organizations like Olympic Gold Quest, Go Sports, Anglian Medal Hunt and some crowdfunding attempts to help athletes’ training and nutritional needs. The Government on their part introduced the TOP Scheme about which a lot has been said and done.
Men’s Freestyle Wrestling
Wrestling won India a bronze through Sushil Kumar at Beijing in 2008, as well as a silver and a bronze in the 2012 London games from Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt respectively.
Sushil Kumar is the only double-individual-medallist ever in Indian Olympic History, also a double Commonwealth Gold medallist and 2010 World Champion, so it’s needless to say he is an Indian legend and rightly so.
Yogeshwar is not far behind, he is the reigning Asian and Commonwealth Champion along with the spectacular bronze that he won in London simply decimating his North Korean opponent with his famous leg lace called the ‘Feetla’. I for one remember his swollen right eye as much as the bronze medal hanging around his neck.
Time have passed..lots of water has flown under the bridge as they say. These 2 legends under the able tutelage of Mahabali Satpal Singh have inspired a lot of youngsters who have already created a niche for themselves in Indian wrestling history.
Amit Kumar Dahiya is still the youngest Indian wrestler to have qualified for the Olympics. He was a quarterfinalist at the London games and also a 2013 World Silver medallist losing narrowly to his formidable Iranian opponent Rahimi. With a Glasgow Commonwealth Gold medal under his belt as well, surely more is to come from this pocket dynamo.
Another one from the same stable is the highly rated (atleast by Yogeshwar) Bajrang Punia who is the current Commonwealth and Asian Games Silver medallist, and also a bronze medallist from the 2013 World Championships. He somehow narrowly missed out on another bronze at the Las Vegas worlds last year.
That brings us to the current flagbearer of Indian wrestling today, the extremely powerful Narsingh Pancham Yadav.
Narsingh created history by bagging a bronze at Las Vegas Worlds and secured India’s only Olympic quota so far. His over the shoulder flip of 2014 world champion Zalimkhan Khadjiev when trailing by a huge margin with just a few seconds to go was worth travelling miles to witness. What was even more praiseworthy was the expression of dismay of the Frenchman’s coach who went like “What was that!!! Where did that come from?” Lest we forget Yadav narrowly missed out on a bronze in the 2013 worlds as well but secured India a bronze at the Incheon Asian Games.
Other names hogging the limelight in the wrestling arena from India are Sandeep Tomar who recently won the Asian Championships, Rahul Aware, Satyawrat Kadian, Pawan Kumar and the experienced Mausam Khatri just to name a few.
But how rosy are India’s prospects at the Olympics? Satpalji opines that India could clinch medals in the lower 3 Freestyle categories (57, 65 & 74 kg).
Well for starters India are yet to qualify in the 57 & 65 kg categories. India’s best bet in the 57 kg category Amit Dahiya lost in the pre-quarters of the World Championships last year and has been laid low by a back injury ever since.
Rahul Aware the 2nd in line was impressive in the Pro-Wrestling League in January earlier this year losing only 1 bout and that too to the Georgian world champion Khinchegashvili.
He fought in the 61kg category at the Bangkok Asian Championships last week but looked just too slow against top class opponents from Iran and Japan. He lost by fall in both the bouts. Worrisome to say the least.
The 3rd in line in this category Sandeep Tomar was a mixed bag in the Pro Wrestling League and Aware had easily defeated him there. But Tomar was outstanding in the Asian Championships and the way he got past some tough opponents including the extremely fit Iranian Younes Sarmastidizaji was a sight to behold.
At the moment he looks the best of the 3 to represent India at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers at Astana.
Moving up a category to 65 kg the scenario is more interesting. Yogeshwar is not short on skills and experience but he is 33. The knees keep troubling him despite the best of treatment and his withdrawal from the Las Vegas Worlds jolted the Indian squad. He was nowhere near his best at the Pro-Wrestling League and he barely fought in the latter stages of the tournament.
His protégé Bajrang Punia has been blowing hot and cold in this weight category and was much more successful at 61kg. It is widely believed that he doesn’t have the upper body strength as yet for 65kg.
These two may compete against Rajneesh and Amit Dhankar in the trials for Olympic qualifiers and based on physical fitness, safe money would be on Dhankar atleast going by the Pro-Wrestling League performances.
But somehow there is an impression that selection in this category may not be very genuine. Yogeshwar is very vocal in his support of Bajrang whereas Dhankar has had some strained relations with the Federation and Yogeshwar. In 2014 Dhankar had moved the court for conducting trials before the Glasgow Games.
No prizes for guessing who would go to Rio if India qualifies in this category.
The 74 kg category is where Narsingh Yadav has secured India’s Olympic qualification. All in all it would be really interesting to see who goes for the qualifiers as much as the end result.