Sandeep Tulsi Yadav pins his Serbian opponent, Aleksander Maksimovic, on the mat to win bronze at the World Championships. AP photo
When the 22-member Indian contingent boarded the flight to Budapest for the fortnight-long coaching camp before the World Wrestling Championships, the focus was on freestyle. This was apparent when the chief national coach for Greco-Roman, Hargobind Singh, was not even considered for the tour. Instead, his assistant, Kuldip Singh, accompanied the team.
The pessimism isn’t misplaced. After all, almost all the practitioners of this style are those who switch after losing hope of reaching a certain level in freestyle. “Hence, Indians manage to win medals at the continental level but fail in global meets,” said Gyan Singh, who won bronze in this style at the 1987 Asian Championships.
Sandeep Tulsi Yadav too moved from freestyle but Gyan feels his bronze in repechage in the men’s 66kg bout on the final day of the World Championships on Sunday will “show the way to others”.
“The medal will instill confidence that Indians too can win at the top level. I hope Greco-Roman will get more mileage now,” he said.
Before the Worlds, Yadav, 25, was not even given an outside chance in an event considered to be the Europeans’ stronghold. But after winning his first bout, he grew in confidence. “Once he inched closer to the medal round, he looked unbeatable,” coach, Kuldip Singh, told HT from Budapest.
Gyan, who coaches the Railways team, attributed his star pupil’s success to hard work. “When I first spotted him, he was quite ordinary. But he has worked hard on strengthening the upper body, particularly the arms (the key in Greco-Roman), and the result is before us,” he said.
The Wrestling Federation of India has to share the blame for Greco-Roman’s poor following. Currently, it is only a part of national meets. “There are competitions at all levels across the country in freestyle but not in Greco-Roman,” said Gyan.
WFI secretary-general, Raj Singh, said the federation is making efforts to popularise Greco-Roman by including it at the university level. “It will give the players more opportunity to showcase their talent,” he said.
Things started to look up after the 2004 Athens Olympics when a foreign coach was appointed. The current incumbent, Emzar Makhardze of Georgia, has been in charge since the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Since it has a limited base, not many grapplers have been able to represent country at the Olympics. Those who have include Pappu Yadav (1992), Gurbinder Singh (2000) and Mukesh Khatri (2004).