You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Wrestling in 2016: It all went wrong before Sakshi Malik came to the rescue

The Indian Express logoThe Indian Express 26-12-2016
© AP

Moments after he won the bronze medal at the 2015 World Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas, Narsingh Yadav asked his coach Kuldeep Malik if there will be a trial to decide who goes to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The coach did not know that to reply.

Six months after that incident, Narsingh found himself in a court battle with India’s most decorated and successful Olympian Sushil Kumar, who had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court to seek permission to conduct trials to decide who represents India in the 74kg category at the Rio Olympics.

That was wrestling in India in 2016. For most part of the year, the sport hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, making the build-up to Olympics controversial. Sushil did not win the case and Narsingh was cleared to represent India, but he never did. But not everything was bad in wrestling.

Sakshi Malik became the first Indian female wrestler to win an Olympic medal as she clinched the bronze in 58kg category at the Rio Games. She became the star of the country, which had a disastrous Olympics. Apart from Sakshi, only PV Sindhu managed to win a medal, a silver in women’s singles badminton.

Sakshi’s historic feat was nothing less than a roller coaster. She had to fight her way back in almost all her matches before she did it once again to beat Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan 8-5 in the dying minutes of the bronze medal play-off match. She ended India’s painful wait for a medal in Rio.

Though it was a feat that a nation of 1.3 billion celebrated, wrestling overall was a bad experience. Out of the eight wrestlers who qualified for the Games, only one could capture a medal. Star wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt could not manage to win his match and crashed out after being beaten in the first bout itself. As far as female wrestlers are concerned, Vinesh Phogat, another medal hope, was forced to retire from a bout with an injury. During her quarter-final bout, Vinesh suffered a knee injury and was taken to the hospital.

Sandeep Tomar in 57kg, Babita Phogat in 53kg, Ravindra Khatri in 75kg mens’s Greco-Roman and Hardeep Singh in men’s 98kg Greco-Roman all failed to register a win in Rio.

While this was still action on the mat, what happened off the mat was more embarrassing for India. After Narsingh was allowed to represent India in Rio as Sushil lost his appeal in the court, there was another matter that stunned India just a month before Olympics.

© Indian Express

The 26-year-old Narsingh failed a dope test, which he claimed was a conspiracy against him. There was a police complaint filed, hearing was held at the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) offices and ultimately he was cleared to go to Rio after NADA concluded that there was a conspiracy.

But there was more to this story. Narsingh was eventually handed a four-year ban for the dope test he had failed after the ad-hoc division of the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) overturned the clean chit given to him by NADA.

Once Narsingh reached Rio, CAS decided to review the clean chit given by NADA after World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had appealed against it. Just a day before the scheduled bout, CAS passed a judgement that banned Narsingh and the 74kg category went empty from India.

According to the guidelines of wrestling, a quota belongs to the nation and not to an individual and that gave a chance to former world champion Sushil to make a claim for the representation. Wrestling Federation of India supported Narsingh saying that it was he who had won the quota and as they have done in the past, only the quota winner had the chance to represent India. And when the federation was not keen to hold a trial, which Sushil had demanded, the two-time Olympic medallist moved to High Court.

The matter is currently with the CBI, who are probing it for sabotage, as Narsingh has not given up the fight.

On the mat, the Indian wrestlers had a fruitless year. Apart from Olympics, Indian wrestlers did not impress at the World Championships. In the 2016 senior Asian Championships before Olympics, Tomar won gold while Vinod Kumar won a silver in 70kg category. In the Greco-Roman style, Gaurav Sharma won the bronze medal in 59kg, Harpreet Singh won a bronze in 80kg category and Hardeep won a silver medal in the 98kg category.

In the women’s category, Vinesh won a bronze medal in 48kg category while Priyanka Phogat won a silver in the 55kg category. Anita Sheoran won a bronze medal in 63kg category.

After the Olympics, wrestling revolved around Sakshi as the nation continued to appreciate ‘its’ daughter. A senior national championship was held in October but since then, there has been no action.

As another year awaits newer challenges, it will be interesting to see who steps up with stars like Sushil and Yogeshwar vacating their seats. And who emerges as the next big thing in Indian wrestling which has been thrown wide open in the buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

More From The Indian Express

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon