The Punjab team was all set to leave the stadium after the bouts on day one of the Cadet National Championships in Patna. As they headed towards the hostel, an announcement for the team title was made. While Haryana expectedly won the first position, Delhi was second. However, what took everyone by surprise was a third place finish from Punjab.
The coaches and wrestlers were pleasently surprised and rushed to collect the trophy. Two silver and same number of bronze medals had earned them 104 points. It was too less than Delhi’s 181 but more than Services 91.
The architects of these medals were four Greco-Roman wrestlers who showed extreme grit and skills on a chilly day to finish with Punjab’s best result as a team in a decade. Arshdeep Singh was the best of the lot winning four of his bout with technical superiority before going down in the final of the 80 kg category against Vijender of Delhi.
Arshdeep Singh has been one of the best in India in the lowest weight category winning silver medals at the U15 Asian Championships for two consecutive years. Still 14, he participated in his first cadet National Championships, finishing as the second best.
“The medals which I won internationally give me a lot of confidence,” Arshdeep Singh said. “But winning medals here is what tells me where I am standing. Greco-Roman isn’t the most popular style in India but we train hard.”
He picked up wrestling at the Faridkot akhada when he was seven-years-old. It was at the insistence of his father, who was himself a wrestler, that he picked up the sport. Balbir Singh, whose wrestling career was cut short after losing one of his arms, wants his son to never leave the sport.
“I was preparing for the my U17 National Championships when I got an electric shock at home and my arm had to be cut during surgery,” he said. “So I wanted him to wrestle. My younger brother Randhir Singh was also an international wrestler.”
While Arshdeep Singh was lucky to have a wrestling pedigree at home, another silver medallist Sukhwinder Singh was not so lucky. Another first-timer at the cadet National Championships, he lost to Chetan of Delhi in the gold medal match. He had impressed with his big throws throughout the day but failed to repeat the same in the final.
Growing up in Bangi Nihal Singh, Bathinda, Sukhwinder Singh had no knowledge of the sport and mostly helped his father who is a daily wager at constructing sites. It was later when he was sent to the Boys Sports School in Ghudda that he picked up wrestling.
“I have never competed at any national-level competitions,” he said. “It feels amazing to win here and I hope I can help my family.”
Need government support
Punjab coach Inderjeet Singh, who has also worked with the Indian team for the past five years, hopes the success of these wrestlers are eye openers to the state government. “Punjab wrestling has the potential and we have seen that here and even in senior-level competition as well,” he added.
Sahil, a bronze medallist, is a son of a street hawker in Amritsar.
“He has always tried to make it big and this bronze medal will turnaround things for him and his family,” Inderjeet Singh said. “Amritsar has a good wrestling culture however the dearth of facilities force many to leave the sport. Sahil hung on.”
Punjab was once the top state in wrestling and has produced two-time Asian Games gold medallist Kartar Singh and former junior world champion Palwinder Singh Cheema. But over the last two decades, the state has lost its shine.
Last year, Sandeep Singh Mann became Punjab’s first national champion in nine years in freestyle. However, Greco-Roman wrestling has been on the rise for sometime how. Gurpreet Singh and Harpreet Singh have been the spearhead of the rise.
With another good spell for Punjab Greco-Roman wrestler at the cadet level, the coaches hope that the state will rise to its wrestling power again.
“Punjab has a huge dangal culture but we need mat wrestlers to stand a chance to compete against other top states,” Inderjeet Singh said. “The government should invest more in these kids. They are the future.”
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