Indian wrestlers out to prove a point in London
A bronze in the Beijing Games four years ago came as a surprise for many but as the London Olympic Games draw closer, the country's grapplers led by Sushil Kumar will be out to prove that they are no longer the dark horses.
With a total of five wrestlers in the fray for the Olympics this year, the country is hoping nothing less than a couple of yellow strips from its athletes and the onus once again is on the tried and tested pair of Sushil and Yogeshwar Dutt.
While Sushil, who clinched the lone medal in the previous Olympics, will look to improve upon his performance, his long-time friend, Yogeshwar, would like to forget his last Olympic outing and put up an improved performance in what would probably be his last appearance on the big stage.
Image: Sushil Kumar
'Had I won a medal in the Beijing, I would not have been competing in London'
After missing a sure shot medal in the dying moments of his quarter-final bout in Beijing, Yogeshwar would not want to settle for anything less than a gold in London and going by his recent performance, the grappler seems quite capable of achieving the desired result with a bit of luck going in his favour.
"If I would have won a medal in the Beijing, probably I would not have been competing in the London Games," said Yogeshwar, who suffered a career-threatening knee injury just after the 2008 edition.
"The only inspiration for me to make a comeback from the injury was to be able to contest in the London Olympics and bring laurels to my country," said the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist.
Image: Yogeshwar Dutt
'An Olympic medal can change one's life'
But it will be Sushil, who will be carrying the burden of a billion hopes on his sturdy shoulders.
The wrestler gave evidence of his class by fetching a gold in the World Qualifying Tournament earlier this year, and if he remains injury-free there is no reason why he can't better his previous performance.
Coming to the younger lot, Amit Kumar's advent to the senior level has been fantastic, but his lack of experience at the big stage may turn out to be his nemesis, although the 19-year-old is talented enough to make himself count at the Olympics.
"The only thing which can hold him (Amit) back is the lack of experience," said chief coach Vinod Kumar about Amit.Amit surprised one and all with his performance in the Asian Qualifiers by clinching gold in the 55kg freestyle but he is aware that it won't be a cake walk in London.
However, the gusty wrestler is in no mood to let go this chance easily.
"I never expected that I will be competing in the Olympics so early, I had set my eyes on the 2016 Games. But since I have made it to the Olympics I don't want to let go this chance easily."An Olympic medal can change one's life and I know what it would mean to finish at the podium in London," Amit said.
Image: Wrestlers train at a gymnasium
Photographs: Reinhard Krause/REUTERS
'Inexperience is not an issue at Olympic level'
The other wrestler in the fray for India is Narsingh Pancham Yadav, the 74kg free-style wrestler from Maharashtra has been around for some time now and knows all the tricks of the trade.
He is hailed as one of the brightest prospects but like Amit, he also would also be participating in his debut Olympics.Yogeshwar does not consider lack of experience as much of an issue at the Olympic level.
"They are both extremely talented. Narsingh has been around for some time now, he has got the experience. Amit may be short of experience, but he is very skillful and in his category most of the wrestlers are rookies so he has got a great chance to win a medal for the country," Sushil said.
Image: Yogeshwar Dutt
Photographs: Oleg Popov/REUTERS
'Geeta has the ability to surprise and cause a few upsets'
In the women's category, the lone Indian to make the cut for the marquee event, Geeta Phogat (55kg), has a tough challenge at hands, but she is capable of springing a surprise.
And if she gets a top-eight seeding she might even finish on the podium.
"Geeta has the ability to surprise and cause a few upsets and if she gets a place in the top eight then certainly I can say that she will be a step closer to the medal," women's chief coach O P Yadav said.
However, in all these permutations and combinations, draws will play an important part.With a slightly favourable draw, the Indian wrestlers may well get a good haul at the big event.
Image: Geeta Phogat
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters