There was a special message American wrestler Jordan Burroughs had for Indian assistant coach Jagmal Singh when the latter congratulated the gold medallist in the 74 kg category of the World Championship. “Woh bola ke agar main darta hoon, to sirf Narsingh Yadav se. Main kisiko apna competitor manta hoon, to sirf Narsingh Yadav ko manta hoon,” recalls Jagmal, who has been training Yadav for over 10 years.
Instantly the coach felt that it would not be long before the two grapplers would step on the mat for a bout. The Indian wrestler had won a bronze medal at the same tournament, and with it, secured a berth for an Indian athlete in his weight category at next year’s Olympics — a decision to be taken by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). Yet, significantly, what Jagmal saw of WFI President Brijbhushan Sharan Singh’s reaction to Yadav’s win came as a source of optimism. “He told Narsingh, tune jhanda chadhaya, toh doosra kaise jaaega?” Jagmal asserts.
Ever since Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (FILA), international wrestling’s governing body, dissolved the 66 kg category to keep the sport eligible as an Olympic event, two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar has moved up to Yadav’s 74 kg event. In the process, the WFI has been in constant doubt on whom to send for the Olympics once the berth is secured.
Jagmal asserts that his ward Yadav will indeed feature in Rio de Janeiro in place of Kumar. “He’s won the Olympic berth for the country. So there’s no doubt that he will be the one to go,” he says. Narsingh too is optimistic. “Traditionally whoever wins the spot has gone. So that should be the case this time too,” says the 26-year-old.
While Jagmal is contemplating to send his ward for training camps in the US or Russia, Sushil’s coach Satpal Singh claims that a final qualification bout between the two grapplers is in order. The 1982 Asian Games gold medallist considers the 32-year-old Sushil to be a better medal hope than Yadav. “Sushil is still a big hope for a medal at the Olympics. He is the man who changed wrestling in the country and so he still holds the prestige and talent,” says Satpal.
In terms of the challenge from Burroughs, Satpal asserts that more than Yadav, it is Sushil who has the capacity to beat the reigning Olympic gold medallist.
“In India, only Sushil can beat him. Sushil can match Jordan’s skill and experience,” Satpal adds.
There is fair share of praise for Yadav’s accomplishments over the past two years nonetheless. In fact, Satpal claims that he ‘knew Yadav would do well’ at the world stage. “It’s no easy task to win an Olympic berth for the country, but he did it,” he says.
Yet in terms of whom to send to Rio, Satpal opines that only the best will go. “The only way to decide that is to have a match between the two,” he concludes.