BANGALORE: Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Indian freestyle wrestlers have won medals at every major international sporting event including the Olympics. However, in the Greco-Roman category, which is dominated by the East European countries, Indian hasn’t really been a medal contender.
Only in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, when India hosted the event and Greco-Roman was a part of the competition, India had the maximum medal haul (4 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze).
Since then, the story has been of hits and misses with a bronze medal at the 2013 Wrestling World Championships (Sandeep Tulsi Yadav won a bronze medal in 66kg category) being the only highlight.
But despite a rich culture of wrestling through rural dangals, why is that one category does well and the other doesn’t? India’s chief Greco-Roman coach Hargobind Singh believes it is to do with how a wrestler grows up.
“In India, Greco-Roman arrived a bit late. So, we have had a lot of catching up to do. Firstly, it’s not traditional Indian wrestling and upbringing of a wrestler is always based on freestyle. Only when they don’t do well at the senior level, they turn to Greco-Roman.
"But the problem is, in freestyle, the focus is always on strength and stamina. When you train for that, you lose speed which is bad for Greco-Roman. That’s why we are not yet at that level,” said Hargobind.
However, in the last two years, there seems to be an upward trend. With focus purely on Greco-Roman, training schools have been set up and it has been part of wrestling competitions in schools as well.
The Wrestling Federation of India brought in a foreign coach in Temo Kasarashvili and the Georgian helped wrestlers improve their technique. All those positive changes have started producing results. India had the best medal haul in the Asian Wrestling Championships this year with 3 silver and a bronze.
“Things are changing slowly. Greco-Roman is now at the school level and kids can learn that discipline from a very young age. Now, even corporates like Tata Motors are helping us. To encourage Greco-Roman further, I think it should also be included in Pro Wrestling League. That way, we will get to play good foreign players and that exposure will help us,” said Harpreet Singh, who won a silver medal at the Asian Championships last month.
While the changes have set the ball rolling for good things to come, Hargobind believes that only when Greco-Roman wrestlers get the maximum number of Olympic quota from the World Championships in September that the efforts will be successful. They will have camps in Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan (training-cum-competition) to prepare for Worlds.
“Preparations are going well for the Worlds. Now, we are not far behind the East Europeans in this discipline. Our wrestlers beat Kazakhstani wrestlers in the Asian C’ship and if they continue to do well in training, I think we can win medals at Worlds and get maximum quota for Olympics,” he said.