When Narsingh Yadav won the bronze medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas last year, thereby earning India a quota place at the Rio Olympics, a little known move called ‘dhak’ entered the international wrestling lexicon.
For, it was with this move that the 26-year-old had managed to overturn an eight-point deficit against France’s Zelimkhan Khadjiev, winning by virtue of a fall with just 40 seconds left on the clock.
The move, which entails holding your opponent by the head before flipping him over and then pinning him to the floor, is used more at dangals (local wrestling competitions) and akhadas (mud arenas for wrestling) around the country than international events, as it considered too risky a manoeuvre.
Narsingh though had no qualms attempting it having perfected the move at a local akhada near his house in the slums of Jogeshwari, which he still visits dutifully every weekend for a friendly bout or two.
While mud akhadas are more popular in northern India, in a city like Mumbai they are unheard of. However, for Narsingh, the akhada in Jogeshwari provided him the first exposure to the sport. His father Pancham and brother Vinod would often compete at the mud pit at the nearby sarvajanik vyayamshala (public gymnasium) and a young Narsingh would tag along. Soon, he started train there.
As a child Narsingh’s biggest motivation was the applause he gets from his classmates in school upon winning a tournament. He soon joined Sports Authority of India’s centre in Kandivli at the age of 14 after being spotted at a school event by his coach Jagmal Singh, who is currently the assistant coach of the national team. However, it took a lot of expert cajoling on the part of Jagmal to make it happen.
“I didn’t want to leave my house in Jogeshwari and stay in the SAI hostel. My brother had already stayed there and I didn’t want to be away from my family. That’s why, I initially ignored Jagmal sir’s repeated requests to come train under him. Then he made a concession for me. He allowed me to travel daily from home to the centre, which was nearly 10km away. But once I started training here and became friends with the other trainees, I started living here,” said Narsingh.
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As fate would have it, Jagmal’s decision was vindicated by his ward’s exploits at the international stage. Fate also had a big role to play in ushering Narsingh into the limelight in 2010 when he won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
“I had a meniscus tear in my leg right before the trials for the 2010 CWG. That left me short of match practice and stamina as I could not train for nearly 20 days. In the trial, I did well, beating the likes of Amit Dhankar. But I lost in the final. Luckily for me, the winner tested positive for a banned substance and I represented India at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where I won gold. That was my big break,” Narsingh said.
Narsingh hasn’t looked back ever since.