It’s the big question one awaits the answer for. Who is India’s best at Rio 2016 Olympics? Narsingh Yadav – the quota winner or Sushil Kumar – two-time Olympic medallist.
In 2003, a young wrestler from Baprola finished fourth at the World Championships. It was no mean feat for an Indian wrestler who was all of 20. But it went unnoticed. And so did his performance at the Athens Olympics a year later as he finished 14th in the 60kg category. For Sushil Kumar, it was just the beginning of an incredible journey.
Nine years later, at the London Olympics, Sushil won a silver medal in the 66kg category. From a young wrestler, Sushil had become the face of Indian wrestling.
At the same Olympics, another young Indian wrestler was making a name for himself. Like Sushil in 2004, he also bowed out early and was not noticed. For Narsingh Yadav, like Sushil, it was a beginning.
While Sushil had won major titles in the 66kg before the Olympics, including a World Championship, Narsingh had a very weak CV. (Only a gold medal to his name in the 2010 Commonwealth Games)
But the promising grappler had years in front of him. After the London Olympics, he won a bronze medal at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games in the 74kg category. An year later, he won a bronze at Asian Championships. But still Narsingh was unnoticed.
As Narsingh took his baby steps, Sushil was forced into a break, majorly due to an injury which didn’t allow him to participate in any tournament.
Scrapping of categories
In 2013, FILA (world wrestling body), now United World Wrestling, decided to scrap weight categories for as wrestling faced a threat of being scrapped from Olympics. For Rio Olympics in 2016, UWW decided to make it a 6-6-6 format for men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman.
As a result of the changes the categories, the 66kg category, in which Sushil competed and made his own, was no longer a Olympic weight category. Two closest to it were the 65kg and 74kg. While Narsingh had always fought in the 74kg category, Sushil had to decide whether to chose a lighter category or the heavier one. He choose the latter.
Narsingh steps up
The first chance for Sushil to test himself, in the new weight category, was the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He went on to win a gold medal in the competition. But, that was it.
Since then, he didn’t participate in any competition, citing injury as a reason. After missing the Incheon Asian Games, Sushil decided to skip the World Championships in 2015. This was Narsingh’s opportunity to make a name for himself.
And he did.
By winning the bronze medal in the 74kg category, he earned India a quota for Rio Olympics. Narsingh thought that he has finally arrived at the big stage and life would be easier from here on. But it was not to be.
As the Rio Games come closer, the debate of who should represent India in 74kg category has intensified. While Narsingh claims that he has earned the right to be in Rio by winning the quota, Sushil says he wants a chance to prove himself and has pleaded for a fair trial.
In January this year, Sushil had said that there is no controversy in the issue of whether Narsingh will go to Rio or he will board the flight. But the issue took an ugly turn after the qualifying tournaments for wrestling ended. India managed eight quotas and all categories barring the 74kg have a clear representative from the country.
The two-time Olympic medallist sees no wrong in holding a trial between him and Narsingh. He says that he has been training for Rio Olympics and needs a chance to prove himself now that he is fully fit. He also says that his medals are worthless and this is a new competition. He has also written to Wrestling Federation of India demanding trials. A copy of letter is also sent to Narendra Modi and IOA. He also launched a ‘#JusticeforSushil’ on Twitter to ask support.
— Sushil Kumar (@WrestlerSushil) 12 May 2016
The quota-winner says that never in the history of Indian wrestling trials have been held to decided who will go to Olympics. Narsingh feels Sushil is best in the 66kg but hasn’t proved himself in the 74kg, a category where Narsingh has fought in all majors. Also, at last year’s Pro Wrestling League, Sushil had a chance to fight Narsingh and prove his worth but he pulled out of the league at the last moment. At the Worlds, Narsingh defeated Olympic medallists en-route the bronze medal. Also, in the last two years, Narsingh has a podium finish in every tournament he has participated in. He feels it is unfair to him, who has won a medal at Worlds to qualify, to fight Sushil in a trial.
The federation is in a fix over the issue. While they did try to bring sports ministry in the issue by asking it to decide whether to hold trial or not, the ministry put the ball back in WFI’s court saying that WFI’s decision will be final. In the past few days, WFI has made it more or less clear that they are not in favour of holding the trials. The main reason is that every Olympics, the wrestler who wins the quota, goes for Olympics. Also, if a trials is held between Sushil and Narsingh, there is a big risk that wrestlers from other categories will also demand trials.
On Sushil’s part, the federation says that the wrestler has not participated in any tournament and they are unable to assess his fitness and performance. Even during camps, he practises alone and away from the national team. Coaches have also echoed the same views. While saying that Sushil has done immense work in wrestling for India, denying a place to Narsingh will be unfair to the Mumbai wrestler.
Weak case of Sushil
During last year’s PWL, Sushil had been projected as the face of it. But the wrestler decided to pull out at the last moment which was taken as a bad example by many. His non-participation in the league and pulling out of various tournaments have not helped his case.
Tale of two cases
Back in 2004, Yogeshwar Dutt had won India a quota for Athens Olympics. Kripashankar Patel, who used to fight in the 55kg category filed a case in the Delhi HC against Dutt representing India at the Games. The Delhi court ruled the verdict in Dutt’s favour saying that if the wrestler who has won the quota is fit, then there is no reason why he shouldn’t be at the Olympics.
But in a rare case, not in the court though, trials for a Olympic spot were held in India. For the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a trials was conducted between Pappu Yadav and Kaka Pawar for a spot in the 48kg Greco-Roman category.
— Sushil Kumar (@WrestlerSushil) 13 May 2016
The debate will go on for a few days. Sushil will continue his fight for spot as this may well be his last Olympics. For Narsingh, the next few days will be full of turmoil as the officials are expected to sit down to decide the name of the final contestants next week.
It will all come to an end. If not now, then by July, 18, the last date to send the final names of participants for the wrestling competition in Olympics 2016.