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Pruthviraj Patil's bronze at Junior World Championships puts wrestling in Maharashtra back in focus

Pruthviraj Patil (©United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)
Pruthviraj Patil (©United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)
Rishabh Chauhan

Pruthviraj Patil is part of the “New India, a strong and fierce India,” says India’s junior national head coach, Parvesh. He was delighted with the six-medal haul in men’s freestyle for India at the Junior Worlds in Ufa, Russia. But what excited him more was how Maharashtra’s Pruthviraj Patil performed in his debut international competition and win aon bronze medal in 92 kg.

“Winning medal in debut international competition is no joke. It’s always hard to overcome the nerves. What Pruthviraj Patil did was commendable. It is even more special because he defeated a Russian who was much stronger and taller than him. For me, it is equivalent to the gold medal,” he said.

Pruthviraj Patil agreed with his coach. He said he had butterflies in the stomach before the bout but all he thought about was winning for the country. There is no doubting the sincerity of the belief and it led to him breaking Haryana's stranglehold in the sport in India.

“I was very nervous. It was my first competition, so I had a lot of thoughts. At times, I would have so many things going at once in my mind that it made me even more nervous. Parvesh coach sir motivated me. He told to treat the Russian as any other wrestler. Moreover, I only thought about bringing a medal home,” says Pruthviraj Patil after a narrow 2-1 win against Ivan Kirillov of Russia.

He was trailing on criteria after both wrestlers scored a point each on passivity but Kirillov was given a point penalty for a foul. Pruthviraj Patil did not give any room for the Russian to go on offense throughout the six-minute bout. And the Indian was aggressive enough to stay out of trouble. Parvesh said this was their gameplan.

“Kirillov was a taller wrestler. Pruthviraj Patil is not as tall as the others in 92 kg. So, I told him to get inside his opponent’s zone and stay close to his body. This way he would not have room to use his long hands and legs to his advantage. Pruthvi despite his debut competition followed everything perfectly,” Pravesh says.

But why is this bronze medal so significant?

In what has become a bit of a familiarity at this point, Indian wrestling has been dominated by Haryana over the past decade. The state has supportive parents, a deep athlete base, a tradition of success in the sport and most importantly, they have three Olympic medalists with roots in the state.

Though Maharashtra has a storied history of men’s wrestling, the art was lost in the pages of history. The sport is still alive in some pockets of the state, like Kohlapur and Pune, but it is no longer their primary go-to career option.

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Even in Kohlapur, it is dangal (mud wrestling), which is the most common wrestling that is practiced. While dangals are played in Haryana too, mat wrestling has slowly become part of local competitions.

Pruthviraj Patil says he too grew up watching the Indian dangals. The 20-year-old wrestler hails from Devthane village in Kohlapur district. He would travel to local competitions with his uncle. Patil fell in awe of the reception the champion wrestlers would get from the crowd. That is when he decided to etch his own identity.

“I began wrestling at the age of 15. I used to travel with my chachu (uncle) to local dangals and that is where I fell in love with the sport. He would explain me the nuances of it. It was all exciting to me,” Pruthviraj Patil says.

The last time a Maharashtra wrestler made headlines was Rahul Aware, who won bronze at the world championships in 2019 in the 61 kg men’s freestyle. But even he has been away from the mat for over a year due to his police duties.

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Parvesh says, wrestling has slowly started getting recognized in Maharashtra. He credits Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Singh for it.

“He works very hard to promote wrestling. The president, sir, would give everyone a chance to prove their mettle. He does not favor anyone. It is equal for everyone,” he says.

Out of the 10 wrestlers who went to Russia, three were non-Haryanvis. Gourav Baliyan (74 kg) hails from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, while Vetal Audumbar Shelke (86 kg) and Pruthviraj Patil are from Maharashtra. Except for Vetal the other two won bronze.

What is more fascinating is the fact that for a very long time there has been no wrestler in the heavyweight categories outside Haryana, especially in weight categories above 90 kg.

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Pravesh feels this is the start of something new and he is happy to be a part of this process. However, Pruthviraj Patil knows it is still too early to come to any conclusion. At some point, he will have to move up to 97 kg from 92 kg for the Olympics. And that is where he faces his teammate Deepak – who won bronze – and Satywart Kadian, who is currently India’s best wrestler in 97 kg.

“It was a nice experience for me. I have been good at the nationals but never had an international competition. But now I have a first-hand taste of the level of competitions. I have learnt a lot from it and will certainly mature as a wrestler now,” Pruthviraj Patil says.

Edited by S Chowdhury

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