Preparations Underway At Sakshi Malik's Residence In Rohtak
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Even as 20 odd girls make their way into the training hall in the evening at the Sir Chhotu Ram Stadium Wrestling Academy in Rohtak, a couple of boys are busy cleaning the mats in the girls’ practice area. Moments into training, coach Mandeep Singh calls some boys to wrestle with the girls. In the last 13 years, since the women were allowed to wrestle in the centre, it has produced 31 women wrestlers who have represented India.
Sakshi Malik is the academy’s most famous wrestler now but back in 2003, when she had walked in as a nervous 13-year old with her mother, it was barely a year since the centre had opened up for girls to not just wrestle but also to practice with the boys.
The then coach Ishwar Singh Dahiya had gone against convention, and overcome peer pressure, to have the girls wrestle with the boys. It was a decision that turned Rohtak into epicenter of women wrestling in India. And it had started off with a case of mistaken identity. Dahiya had thought a young aspirant who walked in with a request to be coached was a boy, and had agreed. However, he realised in the evening that the short-haired 14-year-old was Sunita, a girl. “As I had already given permission, there was no question of backtracking and that’s how the girls’ centre started,” Dahiya recalls now.
As a former student of Dahiya, Mandeep, the current coach, has seen the centre go from strength to strength. “We are perhaps the only centre in the country which has two male and eight women wrestlers in the senior national camps this year. And now Sakshi has become the only Olympic medal winning female wrestler from this centre,” says Mandeep proudly.