If there is one sport that the Delhi crowd knows and loves, it is wrestling. And with the rich tradition of winning medals at the Commonwealth Games, the roars of the crowd should not go in vain. The KD Jadhav arena is a lot more modern than an akhara, but the atmosphere there is exactly the same. At the trials for CWG team, held in Sonepat, the venue was filled to over twice its capacity.
At the last two major meets held in India, the Commonwealth Championships in Jalandhar in 2009, and the Senior Asian Championships in 2010, the grapplers have justified the passion. In Jalandhar they bagged, 19 gold, including six for the women’s team. In Delhi, they finished with seven medals, including two gold. That was against competition from wrestling powerhouses Iran and China. The local crowd loves its wrestlers, and in turn pushes them to perform at their best.
Then there is the third, and most crucial factor; training. India’s biggest wrestling triumphs have come beyond home shores. Sushil bagged his world title in Moscow, and the Olympic medal in Beijing, while Ramesh Kumar’s world bronze was won in Denmark. The country’s biggest CWG medal haul was in Edinburgh in 1970, where the wrestlers won nine medals, including five gold.
World champion and Olympic bronze-medallist Sushil Kumar calls the training arena his sacred space. It is where he spends 70 per cent of his time, and where he becomes one with his mind and body, with the sole objective of overcoming the next opponent, and then the next after him, ad infinity. “I hope to do well,” he says. “Not just me, the entire team will perform well and I believe if we perform to our potential, we will end up with a lot of medals.”
Since 2008, the sport has received a massive boost. The training facilities are now comparable with the best in the world, and the teams have been working harder than ever before.
It is no surprise then that the chief coach (freestyle) Jagminder Singh says, “We will win gold in every weight category. Unless there are injuries, all the Indians are favourites, and this will be our biggest CWG medal haul.”
Even the man training the Greco-roman squad, traditionally not as popular in India as freestyle wrestling, is brimming with confidence. A day ahead of the start of competition, where three of his wards, Ravinder Singh (60 kg), Sanjay (74 kg) and Anil Kumar (96 kg), will be on the mat, Hargobind Singh said, “In the last two years, Greco-Roman wrestling has seen massive improvements. We have had international exposure, and have worked a lot on technique. All the boys will bring home medals, and we hope most of them will be gold.”
And that is just the men. When Alka Tomar won a bronze at the World Championships, she became an idol for every Indian woman wrestler. She backed that up with a bronze at the Asian Championships earlier this year. Competition at the worlds and even the Asian level, is much tougher than at these Games, and if the results of the likes of Geetika Jakhar, Geeta and Suman Kundu are anything to go by, the women will be strong contenders for the top spot in all categories.
India has won 23 gold in Commonwealth Games wrestling history, and the way things are going, the players and coaches are hoping to almost double that, come the end of this edition. But for that dream to be realised, they will need the power of your lungs to spur them on. So go ahead, get ready to rumble.