Kurash shock

SURPRISE PACKWomen's medal winners from Kerala, from left, Lithiamol Sasi, M.V. Neethu and Gabi Swindles   | Photo Credit: PHOTO:VIPIN CHANDRAN

Kerala got a few unexpected medals at the recent National Kurash Championship

Lithiamol Sasi had the shock of her life at the National Kurash Championship in the city the other day. The 22-year-old, an M.Sc Botany student at the Sacred Heart College and an allrounder who dabbles in judo, wrestling and kabaddi, won a bronze medal at the event.

It was her maiden try at competitive kurash and the young girl had put in just about 30 hours in the sport!

Her collegemates, M.V. Neethu and Gabi Swindles, also experienced a similar shock for they too went home with bronze medals from the National Championship.

“It was all very unexpected,” said Lithiamol, who began with wrestling four years ago and then tried out kabaddi and judo but had nothing to show at the national level till kurash came along.

Kurash, for the uninitiated, is an upper-body-only martial art native of Uzbekistan. It has been practiced since ancient times but became popular as a sport only in the 1990s after Komil Yusupov, a champion Uzbek wrestler and judoka, framed the rules.

Kurash, comes from the Uzbek word “to wrestle”, and the sport appears to be a mix of judo and wrestling. It is contested by two athletes, in judo-type attire, who grab each other by the shoulder and attempt to flip each other over on to their backs.

The objective is to try to throw one another to the ground. If thrown to the back, victory is declared. Points are also awarded for different types of throws… to the side, to the belly or weakly.

Lithiamol, Neethu and Gabi are still not very sure about the full series of kurash rules but a month-long camp, organised by the Kerala Kurash Association Secretary Rajan Varghese – Sacred Heart College's judo coach who also holds international licence in both kurash and judo – was a big help.

“Our medals are all because of the efforts of Rajan,” said Lithiamol. And with the Sacred Heart College also being the championship venue, there was good support for the three girls. Apart from the girls' three bronzes, Kerala also won a men's silver through Vinu Devassykutty in the 60-kg category.

Judo connection

“Knowing judo helps you a lot in kurash, kurash is simpler too,” says Gabi Swindles, a first year BA (English – Copy Editing) student at SH who resides at Palarivattom.

But there is more brain work involved, feels Iran's Hassan Roshanaie, a former world kurash champion, who was in Kochi during the National Championship to conduct a special clinic in the sport.

“Kurash is easier than judo but you have to use more of the mind, there is more thinking involved,” said Hassan, now the Deputy Refereeing Director of the International Kurash Association.

“I've never seen such a big crowd at a kurash national championship,” said the Iranian, who finished sixth in the kata event in the 2007 World Judo Championship in Japan.

“Indian girls have a good chance to do well at the Asian and World Championship in kurash…Uzbekistan and Iran dominate the sport at the World Championship.”

Indian girls have come out with flying colours at the Asian level.

“India won three golds at the first Asian Martial Arts Games in Bangkok last year, two of them came from kurash,” said the Delhi-based Ravi Kapoor, the Secretary of the Kurash Association of India. “Both the golds came from girls, one of them from Delhi's Shally Manral (who competed in Kochi). We also did very well at the Asian Indoor Games in Vietnam last year.”

Kochi also saw the opening up of kurash in a big way.

“We used to have 10 or 11 teams at the National Championship earlier, we had 16 in Kochi,” said Ravi Kapoor. “That's a very big move for the sport.”

Lithiamol, Neethu and Gabi will be thrilled to hear that.