By Amlan Chakraborty
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Greco-Roman wrestler Harpreet Singh was clearly bored as he sat on his own in the banquet hall of a plush Delhi hotel last weekend as India’s media got a chance to talk to their Asian Games-bound grapplers last weekend.
At the other end of the room, where the lights shone brighter and the air was thick with excitement, India’s top freestyle wrestlers tirelessly obliged crowds of reporters, only occasionally breaking off to catch their breath.
There could be no better illustration of the gulf separating the two schools of wrestling in India.
Unsurprisingly, freestyle wrestlers form two-thirds of India’s 18-member party heading to Jakarta, having delivered four medals in the last three Olympics.
“It’s a cultural issue,” India’s Greco-Roman coach Kuldeep Singh told Reuters. “Freestyle has a long tradition in India and it dominates the local tournaments which shape the career of a budding wrestler.”
Kuldeep reckons paucity of grass-root level coaches has impeded the growth of Greco-Roman, which bans holds below the waist, in the country.
“It requires much more strength, much more explosiveness, because the area of scoring is less. Holds get you most of the points, so you need that strength and explosiveness.
“Base-level training should be done accordingly, which has not been happening here. Naturally, most who began as freestyle wrestlers remained freestyle wrestlers.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for Greco-Roman though, he said.
“Greco-Roman has been picking up in recent times. We have qualified for Olympics, and winning medals at the Asia level.
“Earlier, if 100 kids entered wrestling, all of them went to freestyle. Things have improved. Now 10 of them will choose Greco-Roman,” he said with a smile.
An Olympic medal, whatever its hue, could do wonders to Greco-Roman, just like Sushil Kumar’s bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games did for freestyle wrestling in India.
“Sushil’s medal revolutionised Indian wrestling, no doubt about that,” Kuldeep said. “We need similar boost. One Olympic medal will trigger a new Greco-Roman culture in the country.”
Harpreet, who is chasing his first Asian Games medal in the 87kg category, shares the view of his coach.
“We need medals in big events, no question about that,” the grappler, who himself began as a freestyle wrestler before switching to Greco-Roman, said.
“If we give our 100 percent, I’m sure we will win a few (medals),” said the 32-year-old.
“I’ve won medals at three successive Asian Championships and I trained really hard. Every medal we win in events like this would be a boost for Greco-Roman in the country.”
For inspiration, Harpreet and his fellow Greco-Roman wrestlers are turning to their freestyle team mates.
“As Greco-Roman wrestlers, we are motivated to do well, just like our freestyle team mates,” Harpreet said. “We look at them and we realise how much we need to improve. We want to match them and hopefully it will happen.”
So used to living in the shadow of their illustrious freestyle team mates that Hardeep Singh (97kg) repeated his name to a reporter to make sure she had not mistakenly approached the Greco-Roman wrestler for interview.
With a good showing in Jakarta, and at the Tokyo Olympics in two year’s time, such obscurity may soon disperse.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Jakarta; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)