Interview with wrestling coach Satpal Singh: "Indian wrestlers should win 3-4 medals in Rio Olympics"
Legendary wrestler Satpal Singh – more famously known as Mahabali Satpal – has extra reasons to be happy at the age of 59. The celebrated former Asiad gold medallist and illustrious coach was recently bestowed with Padma Bhushan for his unstinted contribution towards Indian wrestling. Satpal had bagged a bronze in the 1974 Asiad, silver in 1978 Bangkok Asiad and a coveted gold in 1982 Delhi Asiad. Satpal also won three consecutive silver medals in the 1974 Commonwealth Games (Christchurch), 1978 Commonwealth Games (Edmonton) and 1982 Commonwealth Games (Brisbane).
Satpal, who is currently serving as Assistant Director of Education, Delhi, also featured in the 1972 Munich Olympics, where he won four bouts before bowing out. He was selected for the 1976 Montreal Olympics but did not play as the Indian team was not send for that edition. Satpal also took part in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The former Indian stalwart coached Sushil Kumar for the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Sushil Kumar is the son-in-law of Satpal, having married the latter’s daughter Savi Solanki. Satpal, the current School Games Federation of India (SGFI) President, spoke about Indian wrestling and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q You had earlier won the Arjuna Award, Padma Shri, Dronacharya Award and recently you were bestowed with Padma Bhushan. How does it feel?
I’m really elated to be conferred with Padma Bhushan and want to thank the government of India for the honour. It is difficult to express my feelings in words as I just feel that the award is recognition of what I have done for Indian wrestling both as a player and coach.
Q How do you assess the state of Indian wrestling?
I think Indian wrestling is in good health. I’m training a lot of youngsters in the age-group of 11-12, who are training hard and should be ready for the 2020 Olympics. These young boys have a steely determination to win a medal at the Olympics and they tell me during training sessions that medal in Olympics is what all they aspire for.
Q Do you think wrestling icon Sushil Kumar has breathed life into the sport in the country?
Oh yes! Sushil has shown that with hard work and dedication one can do wonders. Winning back-to-back medals in Olympics is not easy and he has attained that. Yogeshwar Dutt’s medal in London Olympics also gave boost to Indian wrestling.
Q There is no doubt that Indian wrestling is on a sound footing. Don’t you think wrestling talents are only emerging from states like Delhi, Haryana, UP and Maharashtra barring a few others?
Look, wrestlers from these states are more formidable than most other states. It will be wrong to say that wrestling has not spread across the country. At the Senior Nationals we have 28-30 wrestlers taking part in each weight category, which just shows there is no shortage of participation of wrestlers from other states, just that they have to upgrade their performance with better training and facilities.
Q Is there enough incentive for a youngster to take up wrestler?
Why not? Wrestlers performing in major international meets are offered good government jobs and attractive endorsement deals. You must have seen Sushil Kumar as an example. He won the World Championship besides two Olympic medals and corporate houses are lining up to sign him for advertisements.
Q There was a time when Indian wrestlers did all kinds of homework to prepare for international meets – do you think world’s top wrestling nations like Russia, US, Mongolia, Iran, Japan and Korea are more wary of Indian grapplers now?
I agree that there was a time when our grapplers used to get overawed by the opposition but not anymore. Indian wrestlers are as good as wrestlers of these countries. Every wrestling nation is watching out for India ever since we starting winning Olympic medals in 2008.
Q The 2016 Rio Olympics is not far away. How many medals India can expect at this event?
I can confidently say that we will bag three or four medals in wrestling. I will not be surprised that most of it is gold.
Q You are School Games Federation of India (SGFI) President. How much is wrestling promoted at the school level?
The school-level wrestling in India has decent standards. Many current Indian wrestlers have come through the school wrestling platform and it is a nice window of an opportunity for grapplers to have a proper learning curve. I also promoted women wrestling at the school level and so overall wrestling is spreading fast at the school level.
Q You have featured in two Olympics (1972 and 1980), three Asian Games (1974, 1978, 1982) and three Commonwealth Games (1974, 1978, 1982). Which is the one bout you cherish the most?
Every winning bout is special for me, but I would say that my gold medal bout in the 1982 Delhi Asian Games was the best. I was up against Mongolia’s Dashdorjiin Tserentogtokh, who was the 1981 world champion. It was a tough bout which I won in front of my home crowd.