The contracts of Sakshi Malik and Sushil Kumar, two Olympic medal winners in wrestling for India, were upgraded from B to A category by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), as part of the Elite Wrestlers Development programme, launched with support from federation sponsor Tata Motors .

The two join three others identified for central contracts worth ₹30 lakh per head in the form of annual retainers, apart from other benefits like support for foreign trips, foreign coaches and camps to gain international exposure. Asian Games champions Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat are already listed in the A grade, besides Pooja Dhanda.

Expressing delight at the upgrade, Sakshi and Sushil looked ahead to benefits from training and competitions abroad. WFI annual retainers will be spread across 150 grapplers, varying in amounts as per different categories — from elite to U-15 National champions.

Read | India has abundance of talent, says Rio Olympian Dixon

Sakshi said: “We get to take part in two competitions in a year, not enough to give us the necessary experience. Wrestlers from other nations compete every four months. Training sessions with these wrestlers and competitive bouts will help us become aware of how we can get better than them.”

Learning lessons

Sakshi was India’s entry in the women’s 62 kg event at the recent National Wrestling Championships in Gondia. There, she won her event, retaining her status as No. 1. She had returned from Asian Games 2018 without a medal, as did Sushil in men’s 74kg category from Jakarta.

Sushil observed that sporting achievers benefit more from defeats than victories.  “You learn from losses than victories. He or she is in celebratory mood after winning, but defeats makes me aware of the mistakes.” 


Sakshi Malik, the Rio Olympics bronze medallist, drew a blank at the Asian Games in 2018. File Photo: AP


Asked about the lesson he learnt after the first-round exit at the Jakarta Asian games, short on form and tactics, he replied: “I don’t like to expose my shortcomings. After returning from Asian Games, my guru (renowned coach Satpal Singh) started working on those very aspects.”

Responding to a query about national champions struggling to replicate feats abroad, Sushil said he looks forward to international competitions. “Some look forward to international exposure, doing well against different opponents. There are others who are hard to beat at home, but find it tough abroad.”

He drew attention to the fact that expectations need to be viewed against reality.

'Ups and downs'

The struggle by Sushil and Sakshi, two celebrated grapplers, in winning medals at Asian Games is seen as a disappointment, compared to reputations developed and experience gained at the Olympic level.

Read | Sakshi Malik is confident of bouncing back to form

“One point I would like to stress is that an athlete will excel in one competition every year, putting everything he or she has into the effort. Performances dip afterwards, because only after going down will the level rise in the next competition.  Ups and downs keep on happening.” 

Divya Kakarn (68kgs) and Sajan Bhanwal  (Geco Roman Jr Worlds medallist)  were handed Grade B contracts — ₹10 lakh annual retainer each — at the event.