What is repechage? How does it work in wrestling? With wrestling bouts to begin in Tokyo Olympics from August 1, here is the lowdown on the system which has played a part in three medals for India in the sport in the quadrennial games.

The word repechage comes from a French term, repecher. It means fish out or rescue. Generally, the rule allows competitors who have lost early to get a second chance.

Wrestlers who lose in pre-quarterfinals or at a later stage get a chance to fight for bronze medals. The idea behind the rule is that a good wrestler who loses out to a top rival early on should not suffer just because of the tough draw.

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Wrestlers can enter the repechage round if an opponent they have lost to reaches the final. They fight on the basis of mini-draws that involve wrestlers of their respective halves. The losing semifinalists fight only in the bronze medal playoffs.

Apart from wrestling, the repechage system is used in several other disciplines including baseball, softball, beach volleyball, cycling, fencing, rowing, rugby, sailing, track and field athletics, taekwondo, and karate.

Repechage role in three medals for India

Repechage was introduced in Beijing Olympics in 2008. When Sushil Kumar lost to Andriy Stadnik of Ukraine in a 66kg pre-quarterfinal match at the Beijing Olympics, many Indians, unaware of the new rules, thought it was the end of the road for the Delhi wrestler in the competition.

However, when Sushil won the bronze medal, it brought joy to many and led to a rise in interest in repechage, which made this possible. 

The repechage rule allowed two wrestlers in each weight category who lost in earlier rounds to land bronze medals.

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Due to the repechage, Sushil got India's second Olympics bronze medal in wrestling after K.D. Jadhav’s third-place finish in Helsinki 1952. 

In the history of the Olympics, prior to the introduction of the repechage rule, at least five Indian wrestlers – including Randhir Shindes (featherweight, 1920), Sudesh Kumar (flyweight, 1972), Prem Nath (bantamweight, 1972), Jagmender Singh (lightweight, 1980) and Rajinder Singh (welterweight, 1984) – finished fourth when just three medals were awarded in each weight category.

After Sushil in 2008, Yogeshwar Dutt (60kg) and Sakshi Malik (women’s 58kg) won bronze medals in the Olympics due to the repechage rule. Dutt made the podium in London in 2012, and Malik in Rio in 2016.

Even though Beijing 2008 was the first major event where repechage was introduced in wrestling, the rule has been applied in all levels of competitions from thereon. It was brought in due to the introduction of the knockout format.