The rise in clout of Indian wrestling is such that each of the six wrestlers, four male and two female to have qualified for Rio will be looked upon as medal aspirants. All this is on the strength and achievements of one man – Sushil Kumar. But Sushil’s dream of winning a hat trick of medals at the games now hangs in the balance.
Six years younger and steadily rising Narsingh Yadav has already qualified for India in the 74 kg freestyle wrestling category and Sushil’s favorite 66 kg segment is now history. Sushil has since raised his weight to compete in 74 kg but the only way he can book his ticket to Rio is if he beats Narsingh in a qualifying trial, provided the federation agrees to such a trial.
26 year old Narsingh is unwilling to give Sushil a chance. “If you look at it the wrestler who has qualified has always gone to Olympics. I have won a medal at World Championships and I am confident that I will be going to Rio,” Narsingh told India Today.
Narsingh is hinting at court ruling in favour of Yogeshwar Dutt for Athens 2004 where the fitter and qualified Yogeshwar was allowed to go. He elaborates, “Trial has never happened before. When the Indian team goes abroad that’s when internal trials happen. But as far as Olympics go, those wrestlers who qualify go to the games. If you play for your country and get a medal, you earn a right to compete at Olympics. That’s my case. Itâ€™s my right to compete at Rio.”
Narsingh looks the boss in SAI complex at Kandivali, Mumbai. Referred to as ‘pehalwanji’, he is the only athlete training for Rio at the centre. Four years back he was living in the shadows of Sushil. But having found his space, Narsingh now doesn’t want to let go of what he calls his ‘right to compete’.
So much so that he doesn’t rule out the legal option. For now he picks his words carefully.
“About the legal option we will see once the decision comes. I don’t think it will come down to that because Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) officials and the President understand wrestling well. They will choose a team based on performance and will select me. I am focused on Rio preparation. After all I have been competing in 74 kg for 10 years and doing well. I am confident the federation will pick me and I will get a medal for the country,” he roars confidently.
Narsingh is right in saying that 74 kg is where he belongs. For Sushil of 2012-16 it has been a case of making the adjustment to a higher category and dealing with injuries.
“Sushil is keeping his case. I am putting mine. Everyone has to fight for ones’ right. I have done well in 74 kgs and am confident I will go,” Narsingh asserts.
When Sushil opted out of World Championships and Pro Wrestling League there were murmurs that he was chickening out fearing a loss. Now with Narsingh refusing to agree to a trial, the other camp is quick to lead the â€˜afraid of losingâ€™ charge against Narsingh.
He refutes the charge categorically. “Wins and losses happen in wrestling. I wasn’t afraid of a loss in World Championship. I wasn’t afraid of a loss in Pro Wrestling League. It’s not a case of win or loss or fear, it’s a case of rights. When I have beaten the Russians and other foreign opponents at world events, it’s a matter of my right. I am fighting for my right. I don’t fear anybody. When I go to Olympics, I will compete against the Olympic medalist, the world champion,” he says.
Only earlier in the day Sushil reiterated his right to a trial again. Narsingh is in no mood to agree to one. The WFI decision may soon be upon us but going by the war of words, a courtroom bout may well decide who will wrestle for gold at Rio.