Incheon will be a different ballgame vis-à-vis Glasgow as far as wrestling is concerned. The 14-member Indian contingent had clinched 12 medals, including five gold at last month’s Commonwealth Games, but the same cannot be expected at the Asian Games.
The last time an Indian wrestler won gold at the continental games was way back in 1986 at Seoul (Kartar Singh). After that, the best they have managed is silver on two occasions --- Ombir Singh in 1990 (Beijing) and Geetika Jakhar in 2006 (Doha).
So, the first task on hand in Incheon will be to end the 28-year-old gold-medal drought and better their performance in Guangzhou, where India managed three bronze.
“I agree that the level of competition in wrestling at the Commonwealth and Asian Games cannot be compared. We have to be at our best if we want to win medals in Incheon. At the same time we should not forget that in the last four-five years, the standard of Indian wrestling has also gone up.
Today, we are capable of upsetting any big name in the sport,” said London Olympic bronze medallist, Yogeshwar Dutt (65kg), who missed the 2010 Games because of injury and had a bronze in Doha.
Asia, a tough arena
Wrestlers from Asia contributed around one-third of the 72 medals that were on offer in the sport at the 2012 Olympics. Moreover, the Asian domination in the world arena can be gauged from the fact that out of the 18 gold, including four in the women’s category in London, half of them were shared between Asian countries — Japan (4), Iran (3), Uzbekistan (1) and South Korea (1).
The Commonwealth countries, including India, accounted for just four medals in London.
“Post Beijing, our wrestlers have been regularly winning medals at the World Championship. Last year, we had three medals, including one in Greco-Roman, in the world meet. So, there is constant improvement. At the 2010 Asian Games, we had won three bronze, including two in Greco-Roman, and this time we will have a better performance,” said chief coach Vinod Kumar.
“Last time, Yogeshwar was not there, but this time he is fit and raring to go. The London Olympics’ exposure and World Championship silver have also placed Amit Kumar (55kg) in contention for gold in Incheon,” he added.
Incheon will be a litmus test for the wrestlers, and the results will show whether standards have improved or the showing is restricted to an Olympic medallist like Yogeshwar.
“Of late, wrestlers from other countries have started taking us seriously. After India won back-to-back medals in two days at the London Games, everybody was stunned and some foreign publications even wrote that India was an emerging powerhouse in the sport. So, if we are going to have a tough time in Incheon, wrestlers from other countries will not have it easy as well because of our wrestlers,” said Sushil Kumar, who is giving the Asiad a skip to focus on next year’s World Championship and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Tough task for women
Women’s wrestling was introduced at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan. Since then, Japan and China have been the dominant forces. Japanese’s supremacy was evident at the London Olympics where out of the four weight categories their wrestlers won gold in three.
Since Busan, Indian women have won two medals — Alka Tomar (bronze) and Geetika Jakhar (silver) at the 2006 Doha Games. Geetika will once again try her best at Incheon.
“The standard of wrestling at the Asian Games is almost comparable to the Olympics. The Chinese and Japanese girls are very good and their speed is superb. The last time our women wrestlers didn’t win a medal, but this time there will be contribution from us,” said Babita, who won gold in 55kg at the Commonwealth Games.