Youngsters confirm ascendancy of Indian wrestling

New Delhi: Youngsters Amit Kumar, Bajrang and Sandeep Yadav scripted India`s best ever show in the World Championship in the absence of Olympic stars in an eventful year, during which the ancient sport successfully fought off its Olympic exclusion.

Olympic medallists Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt preferred to stay on the sidelines owing to their respective shoulder and knee injuries.

But fans didn`t miss their superstars in the World Championships in Budapest as the trio of Amit, Bajrang and Sandeep put on a stellar show at the annual marquee event to assure that the Indian wrestling was in safe hands.

Twenty-year-old Amit, the youngest Indian wrestler to compete at London Olympics, stormed into the finals of the worlds in September. But the diminutive Indian ran out of luck and had to settle for silver in an excruciatingly close bout of the 55kg division.

On the other hand, 60kg freestyle grappler Bajrang, who got the opportunity to represent India at world championships in place of his mentor Yogeshwar, did the country proud by securing a bronze medal.

While India`s growing reputation in freestyle section was well known, 25-year-old Sandeep surprised many when he claimed bronze in the 66kg category of the traditional format of wrestling, the Greco Roman style.

India`s previous best performance was a fifth place finish which had come way back in 2001 through Mukesh Khatri at the World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The Mumbai-based wrestler etched his name in history when he defeated Aleksandar Maksimovic from Serbia in a play-off for a podium finish.

The ground for this stellar performance by the Indian men was set up during the Senior Asian Championship where the hosts claimed the coveted freestyle team title ahead of heavyweights Iran and South Korea.

Amit Kumar sizzled in front of a capacity home crowd at the Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium by bagging gold in his weight category. Amit Kumar Dhankar, who was filling in for Sushil, also won the 66kg title as India claimed four medals in freestyle format, including two bronze by Bajrang and Hitender.

If India experienced a bright year, the sport was thrown into a tizzy after it was set aside from the Olympic movement. In February, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) axed wrestling, citing the need for overhaul in game`s governance.

Fearing exclusion 2020 and 2024 Olympic elimination, the international sport governing body (FILA) resurrected its course by making wrestling more viewer friendly. The new rules were laid in an emergency FILA Extraordinary Congress to promote attacking wrestling and penalise passivity besides other sweeping changes.

The new rules included cumulative score for the entire bout and two three-minute periods for the match among others. In its bid to appease the IOC, FILA vowed to increase women representation in the association besides raising number of weight categories for females at Olympics from existing four to six.

It meant that other two styles had to give up one weight category each to accommodate two new classes for women wrestlers.

Sushil and Yogeshwar may now have to switch to higher weight categories after the world body announced the weight classes for men and women?s freestyle and Greco-Roman competition for the Olympic Games in 2016.

The new weight classes, to be effective from January 1 next year, will be 57, 65, 74, 86, 97, 125kg for the freestyle event.

Nenad Lalovic of Serbia was elected as the new President of FILA to lead the efforts of taking on squash and a combined bid of baseball-softball for a re-entry into the quadrennial event. These sports had to face a vote from the IOC executive board in September.

Seven months after it was ousted, the primitive sport showed that it was still regarded high among the IOC members as it swayed the contest with a total of 49 votes to baseball-softball`s 24 and squash`s 22.

If the efforts of the freestyle grapplers instilled confidence of great future for India and Greco roman fighters showing signs of catching up with the world, the performance by women wrestlers left a lot more to be desired.

Olympian Geeta Phogat made a promising start to the season when she remain undefeated in the senior women`s Senior Wrestling World Cup in Mongolia. She stood out in an otherwise average performance by the Indian team which finished fifth. She won all her bouts against her opponents from Japan, Canada, Mongolia and Belarus.

But her first round exit at the Asian championships came as a shock for many. Five months on and there was no change in her fortunes as the last year?s world bronze medallist crashed out in the opening bout of the 2013 event.

Promising youngster Babita Kumari had a solitary Asian championships bronze to show off in the season. Babita, bronze medal winner at Canada last year, could not even make it to the world championships squad this time around.

No gold came from the women squad which finished with five medals at the continental event. While Navjot Kaur (67kg) settled for a silver, Vinesh (51kg), Babita (55kg), Geetika Jakhar (63kg) and Jyoti (72kg) captured bronze.

At the world wrestling championships, Indian women went unnoticed as only two grapplers could make it to the second round of the prestigious event. The Greco roman wrestlers showed signs of progress but need to put in hard yards to make an impact at the world stage.

The senior wrestlers, expectedly, brought a rich medal haul from the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in Johannesburg earlier in the month with as many as 14 medals each coming in freestyle and Greco roman, while women got 11.

With the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games lined up for next year, fans would be hoping for a gigantic effort from prospering Indian wrestlers. India also got their maiden ticket to men`s Freestyle World Cup next year, courtesy their remarkable show at the world championships.

At the junior circuit, too, Indians delivered notable performances with 96kg freestyle wrestler Satyawart Kadian winning a bronze at the world championships. The colts claimed three gold, two silver and as many bronze came in Asian Championships in June.

Greco roman wrestlers returned with one silver and four bronze while the girls contingent had two silver and three bronze medals against their names.

Wrestling made its presence felt at the annual national sports awards as well, with Neha Rathi and Dharmendra Dalal winning the Arjuna award while Anil Mann was given the Dhyan Chand award. WFI secretary Raj Singh was conferred with Dronacharya award for life time contribution in coaching.