The Asian Wrestling Championships got off to a rather sedate start at the K D Jadhav Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on Wednesday.
The lack of organisation was rather striking as the mosquito-infested arena was filled with more officials and organisers than there were spectators. A group of about 30 Iranians had the loudest cheers as wrestlers from the nation took home three golds, including Ramin Taherisartang who took home his third straight gold medal at the Championships after previous winning efforts at Doha 2015 and Bangkok 2016.
The sparse local support had little to cheer for throughout the day and as evening approached, had two semifinals to look forward to in the Greco-Roman section, an area where Indian wrestlers are still finding their feet as compared to their freestyle counterparts who have generated more curiosity among fans at home.
Take the case of the last Asian Championships in Bangkok, where India had finished fourth overall in the points classification for the men’s and women’s freestyle section but had finished sixth in the Greco-Roman standings.
Gurpreet Singh had lost his bronze medal match in the 75-kg category to the Chinese Bin Yang in 38 seconds. It was Harpeet Singh who won India’s first medal and his second consecutive bronze at this event when he defeated China’s Junjie Na 2-1.
Using a technique that is known as ‘Bagaldo’ or the hoisting of the opposition using the strength of one’s upper arms, Singh came through after he had lost to eventual silver medallist Junejyoung Kim of South Korea.
The 24-year old from Hargovind Singh’s Akhada (academy) in Faridkot later was bruised and sported a bloody red lip as he said that there was overwhelming pressure on him to watch the match, “We were the hosts and hadn’t won a single medal on the opening day. I couldn’t rest at all during the break between the opening and the medal rounds.”
The son of a national kabaddi wrestler and grandson of a mud wrestler, Harpreet had been honed in the art since he was 13 but switched over to Greco-Roman from freestyle in 2008, “Till date, we haven’t been able to do well in Greco-Roman. But I hope I can get a medal at the World Championships (in August). Now I have a belief that we can do it at the world level as well.”
Coach Kuldeep Yadav also reserved words of praise for Harpreet, who had become the first wrestler from Punjab in 13 years to win an international medal after his efforts in Bangkok last year, “Technically you can see that Harpreet is very good. He also had good upper body strength which is a must for Greco-Roman wrestling.”
The main difference in technicalities between Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling is that in the former, no holds or manoeuvring below the waist is allowed. Harpreet’s “Bagaldo” saw him get under his opponent’s arm before tossing him and pinning him to the mat.
With less than a minute left, the former Railways employee and current Punjab Police man was trailing as he had been penalised a point due to his passivity after going 1-0 in the opening round.
The last minute brought fresh impetus from the Punjabi as a difference in approach with the coaches shouting instructions from the sides asking him to go for the kill. He did and it eventually fetched him the two points required to win a medal.
Wrestling can be deceiving if not watched real time. It all happened super quick as the Chinese Na was slammed to the ground and cheers rang out, most from the officials and the visiting Federation in lieu of India’s first medal as hosts.