Narsingh sealing an Olympic berth remained the highlight of the year
Youngsters showed wrestling's bench strength in Pro Wrestling League
If a keen tussle for a ticket to Rio Games between double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and rising star Narsingh Yadav grabbed headlines off the mat, the youngsters showed the sport's bench strength in a country that gave the world the much-touted Pro Wrestling League this year.
It was Narsingh sealing an Olympic berth for India that remained the highlight of the year.
Another Olympic medallist Yogeshwar Dutt continued to prove his mettle in whatever limited tournaments he participated in despite being bogged down by injuries for a major part of the year.
His eyes firmly trained on Olympics, the London Games bronze medallist carefully picked his tournaments. However, his pulling out of the World Championship in Las Vegas in September due to a niggling knee injury drew a lot of criticism, besides leaving the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) red faced.
The WFI allegedly kept Yogeshwar's injury under wraps and allowed him to travel all the way to the US before he was advised not to compete in the tournament by the doctors there.
Nevertheless, the 33-year-old made a strong comeback at the end of the year when he defeated 2015 World Championship silver medallist Navruzov Ikhtiyor of Uzbekistan in his very first bout of the ongoing PWL in men's 65kg category to show what he is capable of.
What kept making news throughout the year is the raging debate on whether veteran Sushil or the talented Narsingh would represent the country at Rio next year in the men's 74kg freestyle, the only category in which India has booked an Olympic quota place so far.
At the last edition of the quadrennial event in London, Sushil and Narsingh had participated in different weight categories. While Sushil won the silver in 66kg, Narsingh, a veteran of 74kg, bowed out in the first round.
Since then Sushil has climbed up to 74kg division after the FILA, the governing body for international wrestling, re-jigged the weight categories. Sushil had bagged one silver and a gold medal in two tournaments he had participated since moving up the weight division in 2013.
But Sushil's absence from the mat for more than a year has not only seen Narsingh represent India in that weight division but also win medals consistently.
A bronze at Doha Asian Wrestling Championships followed by a gold medal at the International Wrestling tournament only confirmed his growing stature globally, before he surprised everyone with a bronze-medal finish at World Championship as well as an Olympic berth.
The 26-year-old Narsingh became the first Indian wrestler ever to earn an Olympic berth with a medal at the World Championship. In fact, he was the only Indian to win a medal in Las Vegas.
High on confidence after returning from the US, Narsingh triggered a controversy by making a statement.
"I was very keen to win a medal at the World Championship. Now it's up to the WFI to decide whether I should be sent to Rio. But thus far in history only the person who had clinched the quota berth has been sent (to Olympics)," he had said.
As per rules, an Olympic berth is for the country concerned and not the wrestler who might have clinched it.
Despite stamping his authority at the world level time and again, Narsingh is yet to face Sushil -- his most formidable opponent on the domestic circuit.
Sushil, on the other hand, kept pulling out of competitions during the year due to various reasons and the high-profile face-off between the two somehow could not take place.
The 32-year-old veteran first opted out of the trials for the World Championship in July, citing injury, and then once again withdrew from the ongoing PWL for reasons best known to him.
Meanwhile, India's bench strength with the likes of Bajrang Punia, Praveen Rana, Amit Kumar, Babita Kumari and Vinesh Phogat made sure that the tri-colour continued to fly high even in the absence of much-fancied Sushil and Yogeshwar.
Some of them also managed to stun top wrestlers of the world at the PWL. 21-year-old Ritu Phogat, one of the little known Phogat sisters, shocked World Championship bronze medallist Alyssa Lampe in one of her matches.
The year also saw the sacking of chief national coach Vinod Kumar and two others in May, with just over an year to go for Olympics. Kuldeep Malik was appointed the new coach.
Come 2016, all eyes will be on who finally gets to fly to Rio between Sushil and Narsingh, and whether an injury-prone Yogeshwar can remain fit to qualify for the Olympics. It will also be interesting to see how PWL can contribute to the young Indian wrestlers' growth and if they could eventually use the experience to translate it into acquiring Olympic berths at various qualifying events next year.