KD Jadhav's bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Games gave India their first individual medal at the Olympics. Fifty six years later, at Beijing, Sushil Kumar's bronze again brought wrestling into focus. Now, the grapplers' performance in London has put the sport on centrestage.
The five-member squad, including Geeta Phogat, the first woman wrestler to compete in an Olympics, won two medals. Yogeshwar Dutt (bronze, 60kg) and Sushil (silver, 66kg) created history by becoming the country's first sportsperson to win two individual Olympic medals.
"The performance in London shows that wrestling is the number one sport in the country. Apart from winning two medals, 18-year-old Amit Kumar fought brilliantly and made it to the quarterfinals," says Sushil.
"After Beijing, we didn't waste time and started to prepare for the next Games, We will again have to take the same path if we are to continue with our progress in the world arena," he adds.
With four years to Rio, the authorities (sports ministry and Wrestling Federation of India) have to play a pivotal role to ensure the grapplers come up with an improved show.
Stick to long camps
The 2010 Commonwealth Games introduced the trend of long coaching camps, and they gave results too. The camp continued even after the CWG and extended till the London Games. Now, the ministry should extend the camps keeping 2016 in mind.
Asked about the difference in the preparations for the Beijing and London Olympics, Yashvir Singh's answer is: "Foreign exposure. We had a good number of foreign outings after the Beijing Olympics and it helped us raise the bar in London," said Sushil's coach, who was in the camp for both the Olympics. "Before going for the London Games, we had training stints in America and Belarus. Our wrestlers got an opportunity to compete with their best wrestlers and it helped us a lot. Looking at the results, this trend should continue," he added.
Both in Beijing and London, the squad did not have a full-time physiotherapist. In no mood to take a chance, Sushil took physio, Arvinderpal Singh, who has been with the national camp for the last two years, to London and it helped him.
"I had said earlier too that a physio is an important part of our support system. Given the competitive nature of our sport and the fact that we fight four-six bouts a day, the presence of a full-time physio and masseur becomes all the more crucial. If we want to improve, we should have the best talent in this section too," says Sushil.
"Earlier, things were different. Though the support system, including scientific backup, has been there for long, we never paid heed. Now, we are concerned about it and it has shown us results. A support system should be there, not only at the senior level, but also for the juniors," says Yogeshwar.