This has been an Olympics where Indian pre-Games favourites have all come up short, some by a whisker, many by a distance. Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, bronze medallist from London 2012, will be hoping he breaks that trend and delivers another medal to give Indians something to cheer about on Sunday, the last day of the Games.
But let’s not go overboard with expectations based on emotion and past glory. Wrestling is a hard sport and realistically, going by the form of those in the fray and the delicate condition in which the 33-year-old Indian’s battle-scarred knee and lower back is, Dutt doesn’t start as one of the favourites.
However, Dutt always brings an X-factor and the hope is that he would be able to surprise his opponents with new tricks from his highly versatile technical repertoire (remember the ankle lace or phittle roll in London?).
Dutt won the Asian Games gold in 2014. But 2015 turned out to be a bad year for him, hampered by injuries.
From the Asian Games till now — almost two years — he has not tested himself against the world’s best. The change in Olympic freestyle divisions has resulted in the merger of two categories (60kg and 66kg) into the current 65 kg class. So, the best wrestlers from both divisions are in the fray.
The category has had three different world champions since 2012 — a testament to the fierce competition. All three — Frank Chimizo of Italy (2015), Soslan Ramonov of Russia (2014) and David Safaryan of Armenia (2013) — are present in Rio.
The list does not end there. Toghrul Asgarov of Azerbaijan, the champion who topped Dutt’s category in London is present. Former world medallists, Mongolia’s Mandakhnaran Ganzorig, Meisam Abolfazl Nasiri of Iran and Ikhtiyor Navruzov of Uzbekistan complete the star cast.
Dutt has the quality and the experience to match these top contenders, takedown-by-takedown. The question mark is on his fitness.
When HT caught up with Dutt during training last month, he looked in prime form. But a little into a sparring session, he collapsed holding his lower back. “A small niggle, I will be fine,” he said later.
Dutt’s back is delicate but his biggest worry would be the injured knee which has gone under the knife four times. According to reports, the knee is acting up again in Rio.
The format of wrestling is such that all the bouts — from qualifying to the medal — happen in a span of hours. If a wrestler is not in prime fitness, he won’t be able to cope with the back-to-back high intensity bouts.
As if that wasn’t enough, the presence of four world beaters in the mix, with two of them — Ramonov and Navruzov — in Dutt’s half of the bracket, points to a tough day at the office for him.
He begins his campaign against Ganzorig in the qualifying round.
(Yogeshwar Dutt will take on Mongolia’s Ganzorigiin Mandakhnaran in the men’s freestyle wrestling 65kg qualification round at 5PM IST)