For India at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, shooting remains the top medal prospect. A total of 12 shooters have qualified this time around – nine men and three women. Thus, shooting remains a top contender for India to return with multiple medals. Not too far behind is wrestling with eight grapplers in the fray and equal chance of bagging a medal.
In all the Summer Olympics events so far, Indian wrestlers have accumulated a total of four medals – one silver and three bronze – with one person winning two of these medals. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won the first of those at the 1952 Helsinki Games where he won the bronze. Sushil Kumar then won the bronze at 2008 Beijing Games and a silver at the 2012 London Olympics. Also in London, Yogeshwar Dutt picked up a bronze.
Last time around, India had five wrestlers taking the trip to the United Kingdom. This time around, eight will be flying to Rio de Janeiro – the most for India in the sport at any Olympics. Since a qualification quota is awarded to the country and not the wrestler, India has eight quotas. The winners of these quotas are – Sandeep Tomar (57kg men’s freestyle), Yogeshwar Dutt (65kg freestyle), Narsingh Yadav (74kg freestyle), Vinesh Phogat (48kg women’s), Babita Kumari (53kg women’s), Sakshi Malik (58kg women’s), Hardeep (98kg Greco-Roman) and Ravinder Khatri (85kg Greco-Roman).
While the participation of seven wrestlers more or less remains confirmed, the only bone of contention remains the 74kg category where Sushil Kumar and Narsingh are contenders. Narsingh won the quota for India by winning a bronze at the 2015 World Championships. Now, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is in a fix whether to send the quota winner to Olympics or Sushil, who is a two-time Olympic medallist and has been training hard to earn a gold at Rio. Sushil has the experience of winning two medals at the grandest sporting stage but Narsingh has come into the picture fairly and squarely. Another factor to consider is that Sushil hasn’t featured in any competition since the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
In further reasons to celebrate for the wrestling fraternity, this will be the first time three female grapplers will represent the nation at the extravaganza. In London, it was Vinesh’s older sister Geeta Phogat who had secured a quota in the 55kg category only to go down in the first round and later in the repechage.
For Vinesh, at just 21, it has been a strenuous journey where she failed to qualify from the first qualifying event in Astana. In the second event, the first Olympic qualifier in Mongolia, she was disqualified after being over-weight by 400 grams. Eventually, she grabbed the place in Istanbul. This difficult and nerve wrecking run suggests she might be up for the challenge of Olympics. But facing the prospect of the world watching and high level of expectations gets to everyone – even the most experienced – so she has to continue to do what she has and deliver on the mat – just as she has so far.
Keeping into account the experience of the likes of Yogeshwar and possibly Sushil, the young ambition of Vinesh and the two Greco-Roman slots for India, the sport and its competitive nature is clearly on the up which is a good omen for the sport even beyond the foray into the South American city.