Rio Olympics 2016: An in-depth look at India's hopefuls in wrestling
Wrestling - A sport that is mainly restricted to rural areas of a few North Indian states like Haryana and Uttar Prades (U.P.) has been jostling for space along with Shooting and Badminton as the most successful sport in multi-sport competitions like the Olympics, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
The sport has been seeing an upward graph ever since Sushil Kumar won India an unexpected Bronze at the Beijing Olympics. This tally was doubled in London with Yogeshwar Dutt also chipping in with a Bronze in addition to Sushil’s Silver.
India has been on the medal roster ever since the 2009 World Championships through Rakesh Kumar’s bronze, Sushil was the World Champion the next year. 2013, however, was the most successful for India with 3 medals including a bronze in Greco-Roman. And Narsingh Yadav’s bronze last year needs no elaboration.
India won an unprecedented 5 medals at the 2014 Asian Games including a first time Gold won by Yogeshwar Dutt.
India won medals in 13 of the 14 categories at Glasgow Commonwealth Games including 5 Golds.
The momentum generated by this progress seems to be flowing into Rio with an unprecedented 8 wrestlers qualifying for the quadrennial extravaganza which is now barely a month away.
India is sending 3 Women Freestyle Grapplers, likewise in the Men's Freestyle and it’s a matter of great joy that 2 Greco-Roman Grapplers are joining them, that too in the heavier weight divisions of 85 and 98 kg.
Our strengths are more in the Freestyle section so let’s analyse their chances at Rio. Firstly the ladies.
Vinesh Phogat - 48 kg
She first broke onto the international scene at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 and despite her inexperience won Gold quite comfortably. This was followed up with a highly creditable bronze at the Asian Games with her only loss in the event that too an extremely narrow one coming at the hands of top Japanese contender Eri Tosaka who went on to with the title.
At Incheon, she had defeated a strong North Korean Yongmi Pak before simply dismantling her Uzbek and Mongolian opponents. Remember all this at the tender age of 19.
A silver at the Asian Championships followed in early 2015 and predictably a narrow loss to another Japanese Yuki Irie.
After threatening to be Asia’s best and rise in world rankings Vinesh’s performance showed a blip with 1st round loss at Vegas World Championships which was Rio’s first qualifying tournament.
Subsequent below par performances at this year’s Asian Championships and the Asian qualifiers was followed by the shocking disqualification at the 1st world qualifiers which would have mentally scarred most young athletes.
But Vinesh’s tenacity was to the fore in the last World Olympic qualifiers where she simply went through 5 more than decent grapplers for the loss of just 3 points. Vinesh was unbeatable in that tournament.
It is pertinent to note that her earlier vulnerability to single and double leg attacks which was evident in the Wrestling Pro-league was absent in this tournament and that augurs well for Rio.
Her tough competition comes from triple World Champion Eri Tosaka and current European Games champion Mariya Stadnik.
A medal from Vinesh is expected. If she is not drawn in the same bracket as Tosaka and Stadnik a spot in the final beckons.
Yogeshwar Dutt – 65 kg
The Olympic bronze medallist from London in the 60 kg category, this vastly experienced wrestler has yet to lose a tournament in this weight category. The current Commonwealth and Asian Games champion has had his share of injuries and at 33 that is a big worry.
But the multitude of moves that he brings to the mat makes him a formidable force against younger and stronger opponents and that was visible at Incheon against the extremely physical Chinese Katai Yeerlanbieke and the Tajik wrestler Yusupov.
Just recently he held off Ikthiyor Navruzov the reigning world Silver Medallist as well at the Pro-Wrestling League.
This match is etched in memory as one in which the Uzbek just could not break through Dutt’s defences.
It was unfortunate that Dutt missed the Vegas World Championships as that would have helped gauge his Rio prospects better.
The competition at the Asian Olympic qualifiers had no answer to Dutt, who is again looking in extremely good shape.
At the Olympics, a multitude of world/continental champions in the form of the athletic French World Champion Chamizo, Chinese Katai Yeerlanbieke, former world champion Ramonov (who just recently defeated Chamizo at Medved tourney), David Safaryan await Dutt not to mention Navruzov.
If Dutt gets beaten in Brazil it has to be by someone really good. Our money can certainly be on another bronze from this veteran.