Geeta Phogat is the first Indian woman wrestler in the Olympics
Sushil Kumar's bronze in the Beijing Olympics was not India's maiden wrestling medal from the Games. Yet, coming after 56 years of K.D. Jadhav's feat in the Helsinki Olympics, the piece of bronze had enough magical charm to give a major fillip to the traditional sport.
Sushil's moment of Olympic glory, followed by his world championship title in 2010, gave every wrestler in the country a dream to chase. The huge success of the grapplers who gathered 19 medals, including 10 gold, in the Delhi Commonwealth Games was a reflection of this enthusiasm.
The National federation might not have been able to make the most of the success on the mat, but that did not stop the talented wrestlers from expressing themselves in the trade best known to them.
Millions of Indians will pin their hopes on Sushil getting another medal from the Olympics. He may have toiled hard to earn a ticket to his third Olympics in a row, but Sushil is an experienced athlete who knows that ups and downs make the journey of a sportsperson memorable.
That is the reason why the coaches sound highly confident about the 29-year-old. “Sushil is much better prepared this time. He is world-class and he knows his opponents well,” said coach Vinod Kumar recently.
Sushil, after overcoming injury and fitness-related issues, again stands as one of the front-runners for an Olympic medal in an Indian squad of five including one woman competitor. “Sushil has rectified his shortcomings and is fully ready,” added Vinod.
The 66kg freestyle grappler may face tough challenge from the likes of defending champion Sahin Ramazan of Turkey, reigning world champion Mehdi Tagari of Iran and silver medallist Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu from Japan.
The other strong medal contender in the Indian team is two-time Asian champion Yogeshwar Dutt, another wrestler who is set to make his third Olympics appearance. The Beijing Games had disappointment in store for Yogeshwar as he had lost to Japanese Kenichi Yumoto in the quarterfinals.
Thanks to the support from the Mittal Champions Trust (MCT), Yogeshwar overcame a frustrating injury to stage a solid comeback this year after a long layoff.
“I have studied my main rivals and am fully prepared. I have to forget the past and look ahead,” said the 29-year-old who will compete in the 60kg division.
Apart from Yumoto, current World champion Besik Kudukhov from Russia, silver medallist Franklin Gomez from Puerto Rico and 2008 Olympic silver winner Vasyl Fedoryshyn of Ukraine will be some of the prominent adversaries for Yogeshwar in London.
“Both Sushil and Yogeshwar have a lot of international experience and this will benefit them,” noted another coach Yashvir Singh.
Amit has self-belief
The surprise package from the Indian squad will be Amit Kumar. The 19-year-old, who won the 55kg gold medal in the Asian qualifying eventin Astana to make it to the Olympics, is loaded with self-belief.
“I have no pressure. I know how it feels to participate in an international event,” he says.“Amit is a fine performer. Even though he is young, we expect good result from him,” said Vinod.
Commonwealth Games winner Narsingh Yadav, who qualified in the last qualifying event in Helsinki, is ready to live his dream of taking part in the Olympics.
However, Narsingh (74kg) will have to prove that he is capable of performing consistently at the highest level.
“He finds it difficult to control his weight. Sometimes, that affects his performance,” said Yashvir.
Commonwealth Games gold winner Geeta Phogat, who bagged the 55kg title in the qualifying event in Astana, is the first Indian woman wrestler to have qualified for the Olympics.
“After my qualification, my father had advised me to try and excel in the Games. I am hopeful of fulfilling his wish,” said 23-year-old Geeta.
“I have seen videos of the wrestlers who have qualified in my weight. I think I can match them,” she said.
However, Geeta will have an uphill task in her weight class. Leading opponents in the 55kg will include defending champion and current world title holder Saori Yoshida of Japan and two-time Olympic medallist Tonya Verbeek of Canada.