India is fielding eight wrestlers, most till date, in three different style of wrestling at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Every time before Olympics, India has seen a big controversy erupt just before the Games. This year was no different as well. Narsingh Yadav was at the centre of the that controversy alongwith India’s most successful Olympian in history, Sushil Kumar. First, the High Court battle where Sushil demanded a trail with Narsingh for a spot in Olympics, whose quota was won by the latter.
After the case was done and dusted, another controversy involving the same characters came up and this time, Narsingh failed a dope test. While he alleged conspiracy in the matter, NADA began a trail in front of a three-member panel. The panel cleared Narsingh for Rio and while he celebrated the win, a lot of questions were raised about the security of a SAI centre.
Wrestling has been India’s top medal hope after Sushil won a bronze in 2008 Games and later a silver in London with Yogeshwar Dutt also winning a bronze in London. Therefore, the issue became national issue. But can wrestlers get a medal from Rio Olympics?
The biggest hope will be Yogeshwar Dutt. When he added a medal to India’s tally in London, many were left surprised but in wrestling circles, Yogeshwar was a medal hope from long, even in Beijing. He will play his fourth and last Olympics in Rio and would like to finish on a high and change the colour of his medal from London. But the road to a medal will be tough.
The 65kg category in Rio will be one of the toughest if not the toughest and six wrestlers, including Yogeshwar, can be expected to win a gold medal. A lot depends on the draw that the a player gets on the day. World champion Frank Chamizo of Italy will be his biggest test and so will be Russia’s Soslan Ramonov. Apart from these two, Yogeshwar has to fight wrestler from Iran, Poland, Azerbaijan and Turkey. No doubt Yogeshwar can win a medal in this field but lot depends on draw and given the injuries he has suffered in the past years, Yogeshwar will find it difficult.
The other two wrestlers in men’s category, Narsingh and Sandeep Tomar also have a chance to win a medal at the Olympics but they have to overcome a lot of challenges. For Narsingh, it will be more about mental than on the mat. The situation in India will put a lot of pressure on him to perform at the big stage. But this could well turn into motivation for him. Though the world champion and returning Olympics champion in 74kg Jordan Burroughs is seen as the favourite to win gold, there are chances that others can trouble him.
In 57kg, Tomar will be a big hope given the form he is in. The Asia champion has never returned from an international tournament without a medal and this will be his tenth and the biggest so far. But his category is the most competitive one as he faces worlds gold medallist and London silver medallist Vladimir Khinchesgivilli and also Iran’s Hassan Rahim. Korea will also pose threat and so will Azerbaijan. Also, Tomar will be competing his first Olympics and he needs to remain calm if he wants a good result.
In the women’s category, Vinesh Phogat, Babita Kumari and Sakshi Malik will be competing for India. Vinesh is India’s biggest medal hope in women’s wrestling. The 48kg category is seriously competitive, Vinesh has also proved her worth by winning medals at Asian Games and Asia Championships. But the competition she faces is huge. She has always talked out winning a gold at Olympics but bronze is a realistic chance in Rio. Though Babita has a great international record, she will be competing at her first Olympics. The chances of her winning a medal in 53kg will depend on the draw and her own mental state. She is an able wrestler and no doubt she can surprise the best. For Sakshi Malik, Olympics will be a big boost to her career. She faces a stern test in this category and is highly unlikely to pass it. A bronze though is always up for the taking.
The two Greco-Roman wrestlers from India, Hardeep Singh (98kg) and Ravinder Khatri (85kg) will be at their biggest competition of their lives. It is a proud moment for India as two wrestlers have qualified. The only problem is that India doesn’t have a great record in this style of wrestling and to say that this could be the path breaking moment will be a overstatement.