Misfit in freestyle, Gurpreet excels in Greco-Roman
The 27-year-old scored an 8-5 victory over Turkey’s Burhan Akbudak in the 82kg category final to add to the gold he had won last year in the same weight category in the Italian city of Sassari.Updated: Jan 17, 2020 22:27 IST
Punjab’s Greco-Roman wrestler Gurpreet Singh covered himself in glory, winning a second World Ranking Series gold medal in Rome on Thursday.
The 27-year-old scored an 8-5 victory over Turkey’s Burhan Akbudak in the 82kg category final to add to the gold he had won last year in the same weight category in the Italian city of Sassari.
The achievement is all the more significant because India has earned most of its laurels—including Olympic medals—in freestyle.
Singh’s performance also helped India earn 80 points and climb to fourth spot behind Turkey (112 points), USA (95) and Egypt (82).
Earlier, Sunil Kumar had settled for silver in 87kg and Sajan Bhanwal had bagged bronze in 77kg in Greco-Roman.
Singh attributed his success to “adequate homework”. “My strategy was not to concede points in the initial phase of the bout and it paid off,” he said from Rome.
“After conceding 3-4 points in the first three minutes of the six-minute contest, it is always difficult to recover. I was prepared to fight hard for the entire six minutes,” he added.
Though Singh competes in 77kg (Olympic category), he switched to 82kg (non-Olympic category) for the Rome competition to avoid reducing weight twice in 15 days and also to gain vital international exposure.
Earlier this month, Singh had won the national selection trials in 77kg at Sonepat but requested the Wrestling Federation of India to allow him to participate in a higher weight category in Rome.
The Punjab Police wrestler had also won the national title in 77kg category last year.
Singh’s long-time personal coach Ranbir Singh Kundu said reducing weight was not an option as it takes a minimum of one week to get back to normal training after that. “Since the focus this year is to earn a Tokyo Olympic berth, it wasn’t a good idea to reduce weight twice in January—once for the national trials and again for the Ranking Series competition,” said Kundu.
Kundu said the idea to compete in 82kg was also to prepare for the Asian Olympic qualifiers to be held in Xi’an (China) in March. “Gurpreet will skip the Asian Championships in February at Delhi and devote his energy to earn a Tokyo berth in Xi’an.”
When Kundu took Singh under his wings, the eight-year-old boy was overweight. In fact, Kundu asked his parents to initiate him into throwing events because of his height and weight. “He wasn’t making any progress in wrestling, so I asked his parent to move him to athletics.”
But the advice was turned down. “From thereon, my task was to first reduce his weight and then think about his wrestling. I asked him to cycle to the training venue, which was about 18km from his house and then do his regular exercises. The strict regimen continued for two years and he started making progress.”
Singh, like other aspiring wrestlers in the country, was initiated into freestyle as Greco-Roman isn’t that popular. “But during his formative years, we observed that he wasn’t good in leg attacks. Hence, we moved him to Greco-Roman, where the upper-body strength is what matters,” said Kundu. Singh won his first Greco-Roman medal, a bronze, in the 2009-2010 cadet Nationals in Nainital. In 2016, the wrestler, who is based near Chandigarh, had set his sights on the Rio Olympics. But in the 2015 World Championships, the qualifying event for Rio, he bowed out in the quarter-finals.
After keeping a low profile in 2016, he made good progress the following year, winning bronze in 77kg at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games held at Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in September.
He was expected to carry forward the Ashgabat performance to the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, but lost in the first round. “He conceded points in the beginning and couldn’t recover after that. It shattered his dream of a podium finish,” said Kundu.
The Rome event, says Singh, was a good learning lesson. “A strong finish is a big advantage for future competitions,” he said.