Yogeshwar Dutt: Will the 'Pitamah' of Indian wrestling lift Indian sports from its bed of arrows?
Lacerated eye, ACL/MCL tear, meniscus injury, dislocated shoulder, spinal injury. Wait, this is not the description of an accident victim’s condition nor is this a reference to a war-torn soldier. These injuries,(along with innumerable medals), are the price that India’s most experienced wrestler, Yogeshwar Dutt has paid over the best part of the last decade in return for the laurels that he has won for India.
As the Rio Olympics 2016 winds down towards its penultimate day, the Indian Olympic campaign which has been nothing short of disastrous, looks towards its most experienced Olympian, to work up some magic for India.
A look at the man’s success and travails over the last 12 years
His heroism was evident more than a decade ago when he lost his father in 2006, just days before the Doha Asian Games. A knee injury aggravated his physical and mental trauma. But he won the bronze in 60 kg category.
This was Yogeshwar's second appearance at the Olympics, a right he earned by winning the 2008 Asian Championships at Jeju City in South Korea.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Yogeshwar got a bye in the first round. In the pre-quarterfinals, he beat Kazakhstan's Baurzhan Orazgaliyev 8-3. However, Yogeshwar lost to Kenichi Yumoto of Japan 3-6 in the quarterfinals of the 60 kg freestyle event and was ranked 9th.
Soon after in 2009, Yogeshwar suffered his most serious injury, in the form of an Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear. This threatened to end his career and the subsequent surgery put him out of action for a year.
Back with a bang for 2010 Commonwealth Games
Yogeshwar demolished his opponents, from Australia Farzad Tarash(16-0, 17-0), South African Marius Loots (7-1) and England's Sasha Madyarchyk (4-4, 8-0) on his way to the final. The final was again a one-sided
London Olympics..his biggest moment
By the time these games arrived, wrestling was more than just a sunrise sport in India. Apart from the mind-boggling success at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, India already had a world champion and an Olympic bronze medallist in Sushil Kumar, Rakesh Kumar (not part of squad) had already won bronze in 2009 Worlds and Geeta Phogat broke some patriarchal stereotypes, becoming the first lady to qualify for the London Olympics.
Expectations were high and Yogeshwar did not disappoint. After defeating a Bulgarian in the qualification round, he lost in the pre-quarters to very tough Besik Kudukov(now deceased).
Kudukov promptly reached the final and Dutt, got his shot at a bronze medal through the repechage system. Wrestlers from Puerto Rico, Iran and North Korea were defeated and the ‘feetla’ technique which he used to lock the North Korean’s legs was awesome to watch. Surprisingly the ‘Feetla’ should actually be as famous as Dipa Karmakar’s Produnova vault.
Thus the man with the swollen eye and lacerated vision had put India on the wrestling world map, a sign of positive things to come over the 2012-16 Olympic cycle. Injuries continued to give him company over the next year or so, but success was not far behind either.
Gold medals followed in 2014 Asian and Commonwealth Games, in the new 65 kg category. Dutt was forced to move up a weight category, thanks to the realignment of lower weight classes in freestyle wrestling. 55-60-66 weight categories gave way to 57-65 categories.
The 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas were given a skip due to a shoulder injury, but Dutt soothed Indian nerves as he promptly won the Asian Olympic qualifiers to book his ticket to Rio.
Dazzling array of talent await him in Rio
Reigning World Champion, the Cuban-born, Italian resident is a grappler with a big heart. Extremely flexbile upper body, he can convert a lost situation into a winning one in a wink of the eye.
A prime example of his belief was on display in his quarter-final slugfest at the Las Vegas worlds, against the reigning Olympic Champion at 60 kg, Togrul Asgarov.
The Azerbaijani had him pinned on the mat with a seemingly tight front headlock, but Chamizo converted this into a takedown of his own and the result became a foregone conclusion. Extremely active on the Grand Prix circuit and successfully so, Chamizo has a favorable record against all the leading wrestlers in this category.
Soslan Ramonov, the 2014 world champion and bronze medallist in 2015, can be considered the co-favorite with the Italian. He is a textbook Russian wrestler with no apparent weaknesses in his game. But he has had only one international appearance this year, in February at the Medeved Grand Prix. He held on to an 8-7 victory over the Chamizo in the finals.
Also present would be the London gold medalist in 60kg Togrul Asgarov of Azerbaijan. Asgarov won the European Games with a fall over Chamizo in the 65kg final, but Chamizo reversed that loss with a 10-5 win in the Las Vegas quarterfinals.
Armed with a triumph at the German Grand Prix in July and a 5-4 win over Pan American champ Frank Molinaro, Asgarov would be confident, but has a tendency to blow hot and cold and may not be in the same shape as he was 4 years back.
Some other serious contenders to the Gold are Chinese Katai Yeerlanbieke, David Safaryan and Ikthiyor Navruzov the reigning world Silver Medallist from Uzbekistan.
All these strong contenders have been active on the circuit during this Olympic cycle, unlike Yogeshwar who is somewhat an international recluse. But when he does, he always ends up at the podium. With the exception of Dutt and the Iranian Nasiri, the other contenders are in their early to late twenties. Will stamina and speed be an issue?
Craftiness his strong point
Dutt brings a multitude of moves to the mat and that makes him a formidable force against younger and stronger opponents so easily visible at Incheon against the extremely physical Chinese Katai Yeerlanbieke and the Tajik Yusupov. When he moves well it is impossible to apply the leg takedown or ankle holds on the veteran Indian.
Just recently he held off Ikthiyor Navruzov the reigning world Silver Medallist at the Pro-Wrestling League too. 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.
You need not be an Einstein to understand the importance of this medal to this controversial ridden phase of Indian wrestling, to Olympic sports in India and last but not the least to the man himself who will be seen for the last time on a wrestling mat in international competition.
So, will the Iron Man of Indian wrestling adorn some Gold on the last day of the Rio Olympics? Only father time has the answer.