Two more Indian wrestlers qualified for the Rio Olympic games after their opponents at the Asian Olympic qualifiers failed dope tests, the UWW (United World Wrestling) announced on Wednesday.
With Babita Kumari (women’s 53kg) and Ravinder Khatri (85kg Greco Roman) winning quota spots, a total of eight Indian wrestlers have made the cut – the most in any edition of the games. For Babita, however, the scenario must have seemed an unlikely one before Wednesday.
Last week, while the rest of the Indian wrestling contingent headed to Istanbul for a final attempt at qualifying for the Rio Olympics, Babita had returned home with a dark cloud over her head. At the first World Olympic qualifiers in Mongolia, she had pulled out of her bronze medal match. With Olympic quotas only being awarded to the finalists, Babita, like her elder sister Geeta, had opted out of the bout — ostensibly to stay fresh for the final Olympic qualifiers.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) had not taken kindly to that decision. They suspended the sisters and banned them from participating in the final Olympic qualifier. They also asked them to give an explanation for their action before a disciplinary committee would be formed to hear their cases. For Babita, a world championship bronze medalist and Commonwealth Games gold medalist, it was a massive blow. “I was very disappointed when I realised that I wouldn’t have a chance of qualifying for the Olympics. The Olympics are what I had dreamt of for so long. It felt as if my dream had been shattered. All the years of hard work that I had put into it had been for nothing. What made it worse was that I had not given myself another chance to compete for the quota because of a mistake that I had made. I didn’t have any one else to blame for it,” she said.
If Babita was looking for sympathy from her family, she didn’t get any from her hard-as-nails father Mahavir Phogat. “He said it was my fault that I made a silly decision that cost me a chance to compete for the Olympic quota. My mother tried to make me feel a bit better. She said that even if I had lost my chance in one Olympics, I should try for the next one,” she said.
And that was reluctantly what the 26-year-old expected to do. Until Wednesday evening that is. That’s when she received news that Mongolia’s Sumiyaa Erdenechimegiin — who had beaten her to book an Olympic quota at the Asian Olympic qualifier, had failed a drug test. Erdenchimegiin had tested positive for the banned substance Meldonium — the same substance that Janarbek Kenjeev of Kyrgystan tested positive for resulting in Ravinder Khatri making the cut in the greco roman category.
As a result Babita became the third Indian woman to book a spot at the Rio Olympics, joining cousin Vinesh Phogat (48kg) and Sakshi Malik (58kg). While Babita admits being relieved, she says she had some hope of fortune turning her way. “When I was competing in Mongolia for the first world qualifier, there were a lot of reports in the local media that my Mongolian opponent in China had failed a dope test. Of course we didn’t know whether there was any truth to it. But I was really hoping because it was my chance,” she says.
Although she has won an Olympic quota for India, there is still the unpleasant scenario of the disciplinary hearing she has to face for her failure to show up for the bronze medal match in Mongolia. For Kuldeep Malik, chief coach of the Indian women’s team, that hearing won’t really count for much in the afterglow of Olympic qualification. “It is a massive achievement that three girls have qualified for the Olympics. I am expecting at least two medals from them. I’m not too worried about the disciplinary hearing against Babita. Yeh to gharelu mamla hai (this is something within the family).”
Babita, though, is simply glad her dream lives on. “It is a great feeling that I may be going to the Olympics after all. But this is only part of the dream. It will only be fulfilled when I win a medal,” she says.