The air is rent with loud beats of dhols as a small procession of jeeps makes its way to the Sports Authority of India’s Kandivli campus.
Narsingh Yadav, wearing an orange turban and multiple garlands around his neck, is standing in an open-top jeep at the forefront along with his coach Jagmal Singh, both looking extremely happy.
Having just won a Rio Olympics quota for India in the 74-kg weight class, Narsingh is being provided a hero’s welcome at the SAI’s Kandivli facility.
It doesn’t take long before Narsingh is being asked how confident he is of making it to the Rio Olympics despite earning the quota spot. He is reminded, perhaps cruelly given the occasion, that double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar will also be in contention for the quota spot and only one of them can make the journey.
It’s been six months since that day but the question has hung around ever since and will do so at least until the much-hyped national trials where Narsingh and Sushil will face off to decide who competes in Rio.
It’s a contest that both wrestlers don’t like to talk about but are very much mindful of. Sushil, the more decorated grappler of the two, is reportedly looking to enlist the services of former champions like Olympic gold medallist Kurt Angle besides three-time world champion Lee Kemp. There is also talk of training camps abroad.
Mumbai lad Narsingh, meanwhile, has added an extra hour of training to his routine.
“Earlier, he used to train for around six hours. Now, with the Olympics right around the corner, he’s training for an additional hour. He trains for three hours in the morning and nearly four in the evening,” says Jagmal, who besides being Narsingh’s childhood coach is also the assistant coach for India and is currently with both Sushil and Narsingh at SAI’s Sonepat campus.
The last few months have been the steepest learning curve in Narsingh’s career. For years, he was India’s best bet in the 74-kg category. All that changed once FILA rejigged weight classes in December 2013 and Narsingh found himself on a collision course with two-time Olympic medallist Sushil, who made the switch up from 66kg, his pet category.
While experts say Narsingh has become more assertive on the mat of late, Jagmal says his ward is working on sustaining his aggression throughout the bout.
“He’s working on the attacking side of his game. He tends to go on the defensive after gaining an early lead in his bouts. We’re working on sustaining his attacking intent throughout the bout,” Jagmal adds.
In the tournament where Narsingh won the quota in September last year, he was seconds away from making it to the final, leading Unurbat Purevjav 4-3. However, his Mongolian opponent shoved Yadav outside the mat and made it to the final by virtue of having picked up the last point. In the bronze medal match against France’s Zelimkhan Khadjiev too, Narsingh took a 4-2 lead but got defensive and allowed the Frenchman to race ahead to a 12-4 advantage.
It was only a last-minute gamble from the 26-year-old that won India the Olympic berth but he is making it a point to never put himself in such a position again. After all, against an experienced veteran like Sushil, it may be his only approach.