Soon after crashing out in the first round of 98kg category at the Rio Olympics, Indian Greco Roman wrestler Hardeep Singh said the nation should not only support athletes after winning medals but also during their journey.
“There’s no shortfall of cash and rewards once you win a medal but you always struggle and there’s hardly anyone to support you in India during the journey process,” Hardeep said after losing to Turkey’s Ildem Cenk 1-2 on technical points at the Carioca Arena 2 in Barra Olympic Park on Tuesday.
India, who had sent its biggest-ever Olympic contingent number here, are yet to win a medal with five days left and a storm has already started brewing back home.
“It’s the story for most of Olympic athletes, we really struggle to come at this level,” he said praising Sports Authority of India (SAI) for helping him prepare for the Olympics as India qualified for Greco Roman wrestling for the first time since Athens 2004.
Hardeep, who is also a 2013 Commonwealth Championship bronze medallist in freestyle, further highlighted the plight of a Greco Roman wrestler in India.
“There was no Greco Roman at the University level so I competed in freestyle. Not many compete in this style in India,” Hardeep, who started Greco Roman from 2009, said.
“We don’t have any disadvantage in coaching. The only drawback that I had was I started late. I would have been at advantage had I begun at an early stage. Now they’re starting early so the base is becoming strong.”
Hardeep, however, is not giving up and hopes to make the next Olympics four years later in Tokyo.
“It’s just about hardwork and dedication and God will be with you. If I save myself from the danger of injury, I will target the next Olympics in Tokyo 2020,” he said.
The Turkish wrestler won the bout 2-1 despite a stiff resistance from the 25-year-old Indian. Hardeep’s hopes of making it to the repechage was blown away when Cenk subsequently lost to Artur Aleksanyan of Armenia 0-9 in the semi-final.
“A loss is a loss, be it by one point or 10 points. The strategy was to give my best,” Hardeep said.
“In the last three minutes, he took crucial two points in ground wrestling. He took off from there. I don’t face any problem in standing position but I’ve to improve a lot in my ground wrestling. I still have improved a lot but I’ve to work more on my ground wrestling.”
With the loss of his compatriot Ravinder Khatri in 85kg Greco Roman style on Monday, India are now left with six more wrestlers, including three women, in the fray in freestyle.
Hardeep, however, has not lost hope and said the women’s trio of Vinesh Phogat, Babita Kumari and Sakshi Malik are serious medal prospects.
“I don’t know what’s happening this time around, luck is also not going in our way. But hope the women wrestlers will come good,” he said as Vinesh (48kg) and Sakshi (58kg) begin their campaign on Wednesday.