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Asian Games 2018: ‘India’s top wrestlers must learn to prioritise as you can’t win all the time’

In 10 months to the world championships in October, many of India’s top wrestlers would have participated in a franchise league, the Asian championship, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

other sports Updated: Aug 17, 2018 09:53 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Vijaynagar
wrestling,asian games,commonwealth games
Mumbai: Tata Motors' Commercial Vehicle Business Unit (CBVU) President Girish Wagh with Indian wrestlers Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang Punia, Sandeep Tomar, Satyawart Kadian, Geeta Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Pooja Dhanda and CBVU Sales & Marketing Vice President RT Wasan pose for photograph during a conference to announce a strategic partnership between Tata Motors and the wrestlers, in Mumbai on Wednesday, Aug 1, 2018.(PTI)

In his all-white kurta-pyjama, Mahavir Phogat and his wife were making their way out of the plane here on Wednesday afternoon when two woman flight attendants stopped the thick-set man for a selfie. Before boarding the small plane from Hyderabad, the man checking the boarding pass kept looking at Yogeshwar Dutt while the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist flicked through his phone.

Wrestling isn’t the new cricket in India but the time they could move around unrecognised has long gone. “It is way more popular than in France and its champions in India are much better known than those back home,” said Damien Jacomelli, the French coach in charge of wrestling at the Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS) that was launched here on Wednesday.

So far, so good. What Jacomelli then said wasn’t that pleasant. “Indian wrestlers must learn to prioritise and must be helped by the federation to do this. You can’t win every competition you take part in. If you are targeting, say, the Asian Games, you must use the tournaments prior to that for preparation and not to win. Because you can’t sustain your peak performance over months. Also, by sending the top wrestlers all the time to win, we may not be helping our second rung to step up,” he said.

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In 10 months to the world championships in October, many of India’s top wrestlers would have participated in a franchise league, the Asian championship, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. “I understand why they are expected to win all the time, I understand the motivation of cash rewards that makes athletes want to try and win every time but I think it also gets in the way of producing world and Olympic champions,” said Jacomelli who has been in India for over two years now.

“Bajrang (Punia) has changed that. He has told the federation that he wants their support to help him prepare for big events and they have listened. Others too must follow.” Punia is the reigning Commonwealth Games champion in the 61kg.

‘Sakshi medal prospect at Asian Games’

Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik trains with Jacomelli when she is not at a national camp; her husband Satyawart Kadian is at IIS now. “For nearly a year-and-a-half after winning bronze in Rio (in the 58kg category), she had far too demands on her time. Again, I understand why that happened. It was only around January this year that she refocused. But she is good and I consider her a medal prospect at the Asian Games if she gets a favourable draw,” said Jacomelli.

All of this could have sounded like a typical gripe from a foreign coach in India. Till Dutt said what he did during the inauguration of IIS. “It is only after foreign coaches came to wrestling that we started doing well. Among their many qualities is a willingness to learn and rarely speak about themselves,” he said.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 08:57 IST