Narsingh Yadav hates media interviews. The Mumbai-based wrestler would rather express himself on the mat, against formidable opponents. On the rare occasions he agrees to be interviewed, the answers are measured, and show his reluctance.
However, all that has changed since he won a quota place for the Rio Olympics in the 74 kg category by winning a bronze medal at the World Championships last September. That has intertwined his fate with that of India’s most decorated wrestler, Sushil Kumar, as only one of them can go to the Games to be held in August.
The issue has snowballed into a controversy with talk of holding trials to select the rightful competitor for Rio gaining momentum. Sushil, who won bronze and silver in the last two Olympics and is eager to add a third medal, has demanded that trials be held.
Pinned to a corner, and having to defend what he believes is “his right”, the 26-year-old Narsingh has come out swinging with feisty interviews.
“Trial ka toh wajood hi nahi banta. Mera haq hai Rio jaana. (There is no basis to hold trial. It is my right to go to Rio). Whichever wrestler is demanding a trial, ask him if he ever had to undergo one when he went for the Olympics,” Narsingh told HT at Sports Authority of India’s Mumbai campus, his base since he began the sport.
Having spent a lot of time at the national camp in SAI’s Sonepat centre with India’s other top wrestlers, Narsingh is back home at the SAI centre. It is his comfort zone, far from the whisper campaigns and intrigue that has engulfed Sonepat.
Narsingh’s personal coach, Jagmal Singh, who is also the national team’s assistant coach, lends another dimension to the debate whether trials should be held.
“Imagine a scenario where trials are held but the person who wins picks up a serious injury, there would be limited time for recovery. The wrestler would have to go to Rio half-fit. Would that not affect India’s chances of winning a medal?”
While many have said the wishes of a wrestler of Sushil’s stature cannot be ignored, Narsingh is in no mood for such arguments.
“There were trials held for deciding the team for the World Championships, where I won bronze and the quota. Whoever wanted trials should have participated in those trials.”
Jagmal added: “Being asked to undergo a trial would affect any wrestler mentally as he is bound to wonder why he is being asked to do it, that too if he is being asked to go up against someone who has moved up from another weight class.”
While it is yet to become clear whether or when the trials will be held, it seems imminent the two wrestlers will grapple in the media for what both believe is their right.