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Can the Indians wrestle their way to glory at the 2020 Olympics? (Part 1)

  • We take a look at Indian Freestyle wrestlers in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Modified 11 Mar 2020, 17:08 IST

Sushil Kumar
Sushil Kumar

Wrestling is one sport that has been part of Indian culture for the ages. Over the years, India has produced champion wrestlers who have shown their mettle in mud wrestling. This culture translated into Olympic success when Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav became 1st ever Indian individual Olympic medalist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Although Wrestling has been India’s most successful sport at the Olympics after Hockey, the overall transition of talent to medals has been very low with a total of only 5 medals (1 silver and 4 bronze). The main reason for these numbers boils down to the style of wrestling that an Indian wrestler is brought up with - played on the mud and is timeless.

You have to pin your opponent on the mud to win the bout. Takedowns or throws count for nothing. However, in the Olympic style of wrestling, the major focus lies on scoring points and hence, the technique of scoring points is more important than (the technique of) patience.

After 1952, the next Olympic medal in wrestling for India was won by Sushil Kumar at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 66 kg category of Freestyle Wrestling. Since Sushil’s success at the Olympics, more and more Indian wrestlers started to take a keen interest in mat wrestling and the improved performances of Indian wrestlers at the World Championships and the Asian Games are proof that Indian wrestling is on the rise. Especially in this Olympic cycle, the rise of Indian wrestlers has been phenomenal.

Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat have become household names. Many youngsters like Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Deepak Punia, and Divya Kakran too have risen through the ranks. In this article, we will have a look at some Indian freestyle men wrestlers who will be eyeing big prize at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Also Check Out: Tokyo Olympics 2020 Schedule

In lower weight categories

Ravi Kumar Dahiya has impressed one and all with his recent performances (Courtesy: Outlook India)
Ravi Kumar Dahiya has impressed one and all with his recent performances (Courtesy: Outlook India)

There are six medal events in Freestyle (FS) men’s wrestling at the Olympics. Those six weight categories are 57 kg, 65 kg, 74 kg, 86 kg, 97 kg and 125 kg. The former 3 are classified into lower weight categories while the latter 3 into higher weight categories. Historically, all the success that India has tasted in wrestling at the Olympic Games has come in lower weight categories of Freestyle wrestling and if India aims to win big medals in wrestling at the 2020 Olympics, the story will have to be repeated.

India has had many talented wrestlers in this decade in the 57 kg FS category. Wrestlers like Amit Kumar and Sandeep Tomar represented India in the past in this category and won medals in events like World and Asian championships. At the 2020 Olympics, Ravi Kumar Dahiya will represent India in this category.

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The rise of Dahiya has been phenomenal in this weight category. He won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships and secured a quota place for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He is unusually lanky for his weight category that gives him an added advantage of reach, which is crucial for leg attacks. The grappler is in tremendous form and has started off the 2020 season with a gold medal at the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championships. Many pundits have predicted him as a better contender than Bajrang for an Olympic medal and it remains to be seen if he can live up to the hype that has been created.

One of India’s biggest medal prospects at the 2020 Olympics, Bajrang Punia will be wrestling in 65 kg FS category for men. He has successfully carried on the baton after the retirement of Yogeshwar Dutt in this weight category. Since the 2016 Olympics, he has won gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games, 2017 and 2019 Asian Championships. In addition to this, he won a silver medal at the 2018 World Wrestling Championships.

He also qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics courtesy his bronze medal-winning performance at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships. Currently, Dutt is ranked world number 2 in his weight category. However, in the recent past, he has been a little vulnerable to leg attacks and few wrestlers have caught him off guard in this aspect which includes the likes of Otugaro (Japan) and Niyazbekov (Kazakhstan). If he aims to win an Olympic medal, he will need to sort these shortcomings in time.

Bajrang Punia has been super consistent with his performances after moving up to 65kg category
Bajrang Punia has been super consistent with his performances after moving up to 65kg category

The 74 kg FS category was a nightmare for the Indian Olympic contingent at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Narsingh – Sushil saga, Narsingh’s dope test failure, and the subsequent ban are the turns of events that no Indian sports follower would ever like to remember. This time around, the reins of getting a quota place will be on the shoulders of wrestler Jitender Kumar. Although, he is not of the caliber of either Sushil or Narsingh that we can expect a medal out of him, but his first job will be to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, take one step at a time and peak at the Olympics.

In higher weight categories

Deepak Punia
Deepak Punia's transition from junior to senior ranks has been smooth

In the higher weight categories, Indian wrestlers have literally had no success at the Olympics. Over the past, only a handful of Indian wrestlers have actually qualified for the Olympics let alone winning medals. Not just the Olympics, their performance at the World Championships and the Asian level events too have been very average when compared to the performance of wrestlers from lower weight categories.

The primary reason to this can be put down to the lack of upper body strength of Indian wrestlers when compared to wrestlers from other Asian and European nations like Iran, Japan, Turkey, Georgia and Russia to name a few. As the weight category increases, the agility of wrestlers decreases and eventually, wrestling becomes more a game of power and strength.

However, this time around we have found an able wrestler in the 86 kg FS category in Deepak Punia. Deepak has already secured an Olympic quota courtesy a silver medal-winning performance at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships. He has risen through the ranks rather quickly and can prove to be a dark horse for India if he pulls his game up a gear, come the mega event.

In 97 and 125 kg category, India still has not secured a quota place for the 2020 Olympics. In 97 kg category, the Indian challenge will be led by Satyawart Kadian. Satyawart has been a constant part of Indian wrestling contingent since 2014, however, he has never threatened to pose a big threat to his opponents at the world stage. With experience on his side, he’ll be expected to first earn a quota spot for the Olympics and give his best shot there.

In the 125 kg category, India’s quest for Olympic quota will be in the hands of Satender. But little will be expected from him seeing his performance at the recent Asian Championships.

Overall, we can say that India has a very strong chance of putting up a good show in men’s FS wrestling at the 2020 Olympics especially in lower weight categories but they will have to be consistent in their efforts in the lead up to the games, stay away from injuries and get rid of their shortcomings in time. 


Follow Sportskeeda to get the Olympics 2020 medal tally, schedule, latest news & more.

Published 10 Mar 2020, 15:48 IST
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