Will It Rain Gold For Wrestlers In Commonwealth Games?
Lost in ignominy for decades, Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav finally got recognition early this month when a new wrestling stadium, was named after him. Jadhav, a humble army man, was independent India’s first individual Olympic medallist, having claimed a bronze in the 52 kg freestyle category in 1952 Helsinki Games. He was awarded Arjuna Award posthumously in 2000—48 years after his achievement—and it took another decade for the Government to understand that he deserves to be remembered for future generations and named a spanking wrestling arena after him.
Jadhav’s name may not ring a bell for the young Indian sportspersons, but his medal winning performance can only be judged from the fact that since 1900, when Norman Pritchard won two silver medals in athletics, India had won gold medals only in hockey, a team sport. For 44 years he remained the only individual medal winner for India at the Olympics until Leander Paes won a bronze in 1996. The stadium named after Jadhav will be the venue for the Wrestling competition during the Commonwealth games and for the first time a whopping 64-medals will be at stake—21 gold, 21 silver and 42 bronze.
Wrestling is returning to Games after a lapse of eight years. In 2002 at Manchester, Indian free style grapplers dominated the mat. The previous Indian gold medal winners in these games were: 48 kg: 1970 Ved Prakash, 1978 Ashok Kumar, 1982 Ram Chander Sarang; 52 kg: 1970 Sudesh Kumar, 1974 Sudesh Kumar, 1982 Mahabir Singh;
57/55 kg: 1966 Bishamber Singh, 1974 Prem Premnath, 1978 Satbir Singh, 2002 Krishan Kumar; 68/66 kg: 1966 Mukhtiar Singh, 1970 Udey Chand, 1974 Jagrup Singh, 1982 Jagminder Singh, 2002 Ramesh Kumar; 74/74 kg: 1970 Mukhhtiar Singh, 1974 Raghunath Pawar, 1978 Rajinder Singh, 1982 Rajinder Singh; 82/84 kg: 1970 Harish Rajindra; 100 kg: 1958 Lila Ram, 1966 Bhim Singh; 120 kg: 2002-Palwinder Singh Cheema. “In the earlier editions of the Games when Wrestling was included only free style competitions were held but for the first time Greco Roman and Women events have also been added,” informed the chief national coach Jagminder Singh winner of gold in 1982 Games. “In all the three events, competitions will be held in seven weight categories and we being the host will participate in all the categories,” the coach said.
The Indian grapplers have been training hard in camps being held at Sonipat (for men) and Patiala (for Women). Besides these camps the wrestlers have also been seen abroad for training and competition. “We are having systematic coaching camps for last two years and our preparations are on the right track,” the coach said. While the coach was optimistic of bagging 14 to 15 golds, another senior official of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) exuded confidence of winning 10 to 18 golds out of 21.
According to coach Jagminder Singh, India is very strong in Greco Roman, “this discipline is making its debut and we have strong team”. Wrestling has not been a regular discipline in the Commonwealth Games because it does not attract good competition and was not included in Melbourne in 2006. The discipline has been added to this edition of the Games at the insistence of India.
Wrestling, though a ancient sport which has been mentioned in the ancient scriptures, has been largely confined to the rural areas of northern and western parts of the country. It has not yet caught the imagination of the urban youth but sports buffs started showed interest in it only after 2008 Beijing Olympics when Sushil Kumar became the second Indian wrestler to win a medal there. Wrestling Federation of India officials concede that Sushil’s bronze medal in Beijing has given a huge boost to the game in the country. “Wrestling is immensely popular in the country but Sushil’s medal act has acted as a tonic because now it is being talked and discussed,” was the view of coach Jagminder.
“The main challenge for Indian men wrestlers will come from Canada, England and Pakistan. But we are not underestimating other teams because some time, it is the under dogs who create upsets. Apart from hockey, boxing and wrestling are two competitions which are expected to attract record crowds during the games. Performance of the Indian wrestlers in the recently held Asian championship was good and has given hopes of better showing in the Commonwealth Games,” was the view of WFI chief GS Mander India won two golds (Sushil Kumar, Narsingh Pancham Yadav) in Free style a silver (Rajender Kumar) and two bronze( Ravinder Singh, Sushil Kumar Rana) in Greco Roman. Two women grapplers—Alka Tomar and Suman Kundu—also claimed a bronze each.
“It may not look very impressive performance—two gold, a silver and four bronze—but one should not forget that Asian competition almost matches the World standards,” said Mander. The man who almost single handily injected new lease of life to the game by bagging an Olympic medal—Sushil Kumar is now fully focused on mission Commonwealth Games and according to him a big gold medal haul will take wrestling to new heights in the country.
“We are strong contenders for top honours,” he said but the fact is that the road to Commonwealth Games has not been easy for the grapplers. Hours of hard work in extremely trying conditions have been critical to their success. “The Olympic medal was a major achievement and made the nation realise that we are capable of competing with the best. The sports ministry has also helped out a lot since then and the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex—where the CWG wrestling event will take place—is looking simply magnificent,” he said. ”We are training very hard and all of us will go all out to win gold. We are totally focussed and we will make the country proud at the Commonwealth and Asian Games.” Sushil said.
Sushil, who competes in the 66 kg freestyle category, is not underestimating any of his opponents. ”All the wrestlers at the international level are strong. But at the Commonwealth Games, we expect England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to give a tough fight, at the Asian Games, Iran, Japan, Korea and central Asian
countries are the strong teams. We have good coaches who are working very hard to prepare us. We have got all the facilities and all we need to do now is to work hard.” he asserted.
The Olympic bronze medallist, along with other CWG core group of wrestlers, trains at the Ludlow Castle wrestling venue twice a week and the Sports Authority of India centre near Sonepat rest of the time. The Ludlow Castle centre was constructed at the cost of Rs 13 crore, with world class amenities for trainees. The first floor has a training hall, which can accommodate six wrestling mats at a time.
He along with other wrestlers is currently preparing for the World Championship to be held in Moscow in September. The WFI has picked up 84 wrestlers—four for each category—for the training camp.
The Indian wrestlers to watch are—Free Style: (55 kg) Rahul Awana, Vinod (60 kg) Yogeshwar, Rahul Mann, (66 kg) Sushil Kumar, (74 kg) Ramesh- winner of bronze medal in World championship- Narsingh Yadav (84 kg) Anuj Kumar (96 kg) Mausam Khatri,(120 kg) Rajiv Tomar, Joginder Kumar; Greco Roman: (55 kg) Rajinder Kumar, (60 kg)Ravinder,(66 kg) Gurvinder, Sunil Rana,(84 kg) Manoj; Women (free style): (48 kg) Nirmala Devi (51 kg) Babita,(63 kg) Geetika Jhakar, (67 kg) Suman Kundu (72 kg ) Anmol. The wrestlers have a chance to bring glory to the country. Will they do it only time will tell?
By Harpal Singh Bedi