The picture is not rosy

Published : Aug 14, 2004 00:00 IST

NEVER before has India had so many wrestlers in the Olympic arena — six in the freestyle and one in the Greco-Roman.


NEVER before has India had so many wrestlers in the Olympic arena — six in the freestyle and one in the Greco-Roman.

The euphoria ends there though.

Because, there are several undercurrents: division in the ranks, a runaway wrestler, a crestfallen coach and the usual slice of injuries that are associated with the sport. It never fails to amaze — just like in the past, the present is as messy.

Just when it looked all rosy, Olympian Kartar Singh led a revolt against the incumbent President, M. S. Malik of WFL. The subsequent stay order issued by the Delhi High Court left the WFI divided.

Though both the sides insisted that the rift would have no effect on the preparation of the Athens-bound wrestlers, it could hardly be true.

The faction led by Kartar Singh managed to fly out Mukesh Khatri to the U. S. for specialised training, his personal coach Ramphal Thakran in tow. The Greco-Roman grappler then became untraceable when the WFI sought to assemble all seven for a conditioning camp in NIS Patiala followed by training in Sofia, Bulgaria. Khatri though spoke through his father, demanding that Thakran be allowed to travel with him to Athens and not the National Greco-Roman coach, Gyan Singh.

This was no justice for the coach who helped him win a berth for the Athens Olympics. Khatri's fancy for Thakran goes long way back. He persuaded his way to have Thakran as coach at the September 2003 World championships in New York — the first Olympic qualifier. India earned two berths — through freestyle wrestlers Sushil Kumar (60kg) and Sujit Mann (74kg) — but Khatri returned with a poor show.

Gyan Singh was reinstated as coach for the second Olympic qualifier at Novi Sad, Serbia, and he produced instant result. Khatri qualified from the 55kg category.

``I had stepped aside to make way for Thakran to accompany Khatri at the World championships and finally under my guidance he won the berth. But I can't understand why I have been subjected to such treatment,'' rues Gyan Singh.

Committed lot

In contrast, the freestyle wrestlers remain a committed lot.

They have made a perfect start by winning six tickets to Athens. Of the seven Olympic weight categories, India failed only in 96 kg class. Following Sushil Kumar and Mann, Yogeshwar Dutt (55 kg), Ramesh Kumar (66 kg), Anuj Kumar (84 kg) and Palwinder Singh Cheema (120 kg), made it, from the Olympic qualifying tournament in Sofia.

Of these, Commonwealth champion Sushil Kumar remains India's best bet at Olympics. Sushil has good reflexes, ability to attack from the ground and the never-say-die spirit. He had finished fourth in the World championship — the best Indian performance in the recent past.

With the likes of Russian Kamal Vstakhanov, American Eric Guerrero and Georgian David Pogosyan in the fray, Sushil stands just an outside chance.

As for others, Ramesh Kumar seems to have fallen victim of the injury he sustained during his gold-winning effort at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. Despite recovery, the itch has stayed on to haunt him.

Ramesh made comeback after one year of recuperation, won the berth for Athens, but now his technique looks curtailed and that just about leaves him out on the sidelines.

Yogeshwar Dutt is another in the lighter weight category, but his World cadet crown holds no meaning in Olympics. Even though Indians have historically done well in the lower weight categories, it would be an achievement if Dutt makes it to the knock-out stage.

Of the other three, Sujit Mann is on the decline, as does Anuj Kumar. Mann has won four Asian medals, one silver and three bronze medals.

Finnaly there is super-heavy Palwinder Cheema, who lives on the hype. In his class, the Russians are the masters. Then you have Americans, Bulgarians and not to be left out, the Iranians.

Cheema won first Asian Games medal for the country after 1990, a bronze in 2002 Busan Games. The gold in Manchester was also first for India in the super-heavy class, but these statistics hardly help. Cheema has a big problem if his opponent wins early points. He just surrenders then on.

We hope, India's wrestling campaign in Athens, at least, should not be an abject surrender.

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