What Bhiwani is to boxing, Sonepat is to wrestling. This chink of Haryana's hinterland on Delhi-Chandigarh National Highway has become the Mecca of Indian wrestling.
For quite some time, more than half of the Indian men's team comes from Haryana; most of these are from the nondescript Sonepat district.
On Tuesday, Indian grapplers made the clean sweep of the wrestling golds on offer. All three stars of the day, Ravinder Singh, Sanjay (74kg) and Anil Kumar (96kg), are from Harayana. Sanjay and Anil are both from Sonepat, while Ravinder, a comparative outsider from Jhajhar district. Sanjay hails from Shahpur and Anil is from the neighbouring village Raipur.
"In Sonepat every kid wants to be a wrestler. You can find and akhara in every village and during the morning and evening you will always find kids slugging it out in the mud. In the last couple of years, many villages in Sonepat have even invested in wrestling mats," said Sanjay, who defeated Richard Addinall of South Africa for the gold.
Anil, who got better of Hassene Fkiri Hassene of Australia, is from a wrestling family.
His father Ragubir is a former international and his elder brothers Balwan Singh and Devinder Singh have also donned the national jersey. Balwan runs an akhara in Sonepat while Devinder is now with the Punjab Police.
"The kids of Sonepat take to wrestling like ducks to water. Like many other kids in my neighbourhood I have also grown watching elders playing the sport. And I can assure that as soon as I won the gold the celebrations in my village would have started," said Anil.
"Being a wrestler is an honour in the villages of Sonepat. I still remember the day when I entered Sonepat after winning bronze in the world championship. My entourage was as big as a top politician's. Thousands came out to welcome me," said Arjuna awarde Ramesh Kumar, who bagged that famous bronze last year. Ramesh hails from Purkhas village in Sonepat.
The sport has now spread to neighbouring districts. Jhajhar and Rohtak are also emerged as powerhouses of the sport. "Haryana is a powerhouse in the sport and more than half of the wrestling team is from the state which speaks volumes about its dominance," said Ravinder, after winning gold on Tuesday.