Stepping on the mat in the India singlet at an international meet is any wrestler’s dream. But having to do so without any formal training in the sport is nothing short of a nightmare, as Manjul Nautiyal found out first hand at the Asian Championships in Qatar last month.
Nautiyal, physiotherapist for the Indian team, boarded the flight to Doha with the rest of the contingent but was in for a shock on touchdown. With four Greco-Roman wrestlers not getting their visas on time, the Wrestling Federation of India fielded Nautiyal and three members of the freestyle team.
The replacements were necessary as the rules say that the same number of wrestlers who compete at the continental championships will be allowed to participate in the World Championships — a qualifying tournament for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Nautiyal’s opponent in the 59kg weight division was Iraq’s Karar Abbas Mkasar Al Bethani. He lost the bout, as did the other three replacements, but not before some anxious moments.
Initially, the coaching staff tried to save Nautiyal by faking an injury. But the referees quickly foiled that plan and the 26-year-old was thrown in at the deep end.
Then there was confusion about his opponent that added to his stage fright. “I was terrified because there was some confusion that the opponent was not from Iraq but from Iran, a powerhouse in the sport. I told myself, ‘Iran... he will surely qualify for the final and I will have to fight two repechage bouts’,” Nautiyal told HT.
A repechage bout is fought by those who lose to an eventual finalist and it gives them a shot at progressing to the medal playoff.
“Luckily, it was just the one match for me. The coaches had told me I wouldn’t have to do anything as the other guy would finish the bout in seconds,” Nautiyal said.
He lasted 12 seconds, losing 0-5 to the professional.
Nightmare over, the physio can now laugh over his misadventure. “But back then it was pure fear,” he added.
Back at the Sports Authority of India’s facility in Sonepat, Nautiyal is a star. “Wearing the singlet and getting on the mat was a different experience. The wrestlers say I made my debut in India colours. I am proud of the fact as not many can claim that distinction,” he said.