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Wrestler Sushil Kumar’s golden return shrouded in walkover ‘mystery’

A rusty Sushil Kumar won the 74kg freestyle category at the ongoing national wrestling championships in Indore, the twin Olympic medallist receiving three walkovers en route to gold

other sports Updated: Nov 18, 2017 10:54 IST
Leslie Xavier
Leslie Xavier
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sushil Kumar,Indian wrestling,Parveen Rana
Wrestler Sushil Kumar greets the crowd after winning the gold medal in the men's 74kg freestyle competition during the Senior National wrestling championships in Indore on Friday. (PTI)

Sushil Kumar’s gold medal-winning comeback to competitive wrestling at the national championships in Indore on Friday, hailed by the grappling fraternity, has highlighted a few things very wrong with the sport in India at the moment.

A visibly rusty Sushil -- returning to competition after a gap of almost three years -- recorded two victories against tame opponents in the preliminary rounds before receiving three straight walkovers from the quarterfinal stage en route to gold. In all likelihood, even the 34-year-old double Olympic medallist would not be proud of the way he won.

After all, Sushil is aiming for bigger things (read Asian and world medals) during his comeback and strong bouts and tough opponents can only help him get back to his best, or even give him a reality check.

The latter -- upcoming young wrestlers giving Sushil a reality check -- would have been the ideal case scenario for Indian wrestling. 

However, the quality of wrestlers in Sushil’s 74 kg category at the nationals has proven that the sport in the country has not moved forward, but taken countless steps backwards from the much-celebrated golden era. That period saw Sushil win a sensational world title (2010 in Russia) and two Olympic medals (Beijing 2008 and London 2012), while Yogeshwar Dutt (London 2012) and Sakshi Malik (Rio 2016) too made their mark on the biggest stage.

RANA NO SHOW

Then came the Narshingh Yadav farce last year in Rio (the selection trials drama with Sushil and subsequent doping scandal). During the fiasco, Parveen Rana, a junior world championship bronze medallist, was touted as the next big thing in the 74kg freestyle category.

Rana, representing Railways Sports Promotion Board (RSPB) at the nationals, chose not to fight Sushil, his senior, in the final in Indore. Maybe it was team orders -- Sushil wrestled for RSPB too and Rana had given walkover to him even at the Railways trials last week. Maybe it was out of respect, fear, or both, but the walkovers have taken away the charm and intent in Sushil’s comeback.

For the record, Rana, Sachin Rathi of UP (in semis), Praveen of Haryana B (in quarterfinals) gave walkovers to Sushil. Three wrestlers from the strongest wrestling states in the country chose not to fight one of India’s best wrestlers, giving up a golden opportunity to gain valuable experience from it, not to mention the outside chance of beating the champion.

SLUGGISH SUSHIL

Sushil breezed past Lalmal Sawma of Mizoram in the first round. But, going by the way he fought against Mukul Mishra of Jharkhand, a wrestler of Rana’s calibre could have fancied his chances of winning.

Sushil was sluggish, struggling to get his famous stand-up combination takedowns going. In fact, a couple of times during the bout, he even seemed lost after getting into a strong position with neck locks.

He also struggled to make quick transitions on the ground to apply his favourite scissors lock (Irani). He did manage to win the bout applying the same hold, but things were clearly not smooth or snappy -- the comparison here being with his peak, between 2009 and 2012.

SLIPPING QUALITY

While Sushil, the great champion and hard worker that he is, may hit the peak in the coming months to challenge for medals at international competitions, one, sadly, can’t say that about Indian wrestling.

All the strong wrestling nations -- be it the USA, Iran, Russia or Eastern European countries -- ensure quality through an assembly-line of talented wrestlers who compete and challenge each other. A Russian or American reigning world champion may not find a spot in the national team the next time merely because of his past medals.

Such a precedent or system is not in place in India. And coupled with that, the wrestlers’ reluctance to fight strong opponents -- some put the blame on the sacred, senior-junior hierarchy prevalent in the sport -- has put Indian wrestling back to where it was before the 2000s.

A rot is on and wrestlers and the governing body are equally party to that, while we are left with an ageing champion as our biggest hope for the future.

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 23:41 IST