Life getting tougher for Kabaddi kings

INDIAN KABADDI TEAMS (men and women) pose with gold medals.-PTI INDIAN KABADDI TEAMS (men and women) pose with gold medals.

A few years ago, Lee Jangjun was a very promising rower in Busan but in 2010 while watching the Guangzhou Asian Games kabaddi action on television, he felt that it was his kind of sport.

Good in judo and taekwondo, Lee has brought a new martial arts touch to kabaddi which the sport has not seen before. His flying kick while on a raid has a lot more sting than what the Indians are used to. And after playing the Asian Games men's semi- final against India, where host South Korea ran the champion close for a while, Lee is confident that his country would win the gold at the Games next edition in Jakarta.

While Korea is looking at 2018 for its first gold after picking its maiden bronze here, Iran almost had the yellow in its pocket in the men's final against defending champion India only to mess up things on the home stretch.

India could always rely on kabaddi for sure golds at the Asian Games but suddenly, things have become very difficult.

"Korea has improved almost 90 per cent from its Guangzhou performance. They are fit and very fast, things will be very difficult for us in future. we have to be very careful" said national G. Udayakumar, almost putting out a warning.

Balwan Singh, the team's other national coach, was also rattled by Iran's performance in the men's gold decider which India won by just two points.

"We will try to improve technically next time. It should not have gone like this," he said.

While the Koreans have brought speed and lightning reflexes to the sport, the Iranians have made it more aggressive.

Four Koreans who figured in the Asian Games were in action in the recent Pro Kabaddi League, including Lee Jangjun who won a few Man of the Match awards while playing for Bengal Warriors, and this raised the host's game in a big way here.

Also the arrival of Hyderabad's L. Srinivas Reddy, a former Asian gold medallist, who landed in Korea four months ago to coach the players there, helped the host.

"There are probably only these 15 or 20 boys playing kabaddi in the whole of Korea," said Srinivas. "They are very fast and strong but they lack in technique, they are not good in defence. I am just teaching them these things."

While Korea is happy to have an Indian coaching them, Iran is keen to play more and more tests against the Asian Games champion but there is a feeling in Teheran that Indians are not very keen to host its team, worried that it could make Iran a champion side.

"We are one family, kabaddi is a very small sport, we have to play each other often, we have to look at the big picture and bring more countries to the sport," said Zahra Rahimine, the Iranian women's coach. "That's the only way to improve, to grow."

After Iran's stunning show here, that could certainly put India in a dilemma.

Stan Rayan