Sushil, Yogeshwar shine in splendid year for wrestling
A long sabbatical and a rejig in weight categories notwithstanding, Olympic heroes Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt reaffirmed their dominance at the world stage, which included ending a 28-year gold drought at the Asian Games, even as youngsters showed the quality of Indian wrestling’s talent reservoir in a successful 2014.
Despite taking to the mat for the first time since the 2012 London Olympics and climbing up weight divisions after international governing body FILA rejigged the weight classes for its competitions including those of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, both Sushil and Yogeshwar proved their worth in the limited tournaments they took part in this year.
Yogeshwar, in fact, ended India’s 28-year wait for gold in wrestling at the Asian Games by bagging the yellow metal in Incheon, South Korea, in September. With their eyes now firmly trained on 2016 Rio Olympics, the star grapplers carefully picked their tournaments, contesting in not more than three competitions in 2014. But in those limited opportunities, the freestyle wrestlers came out with flying colours.
After opting out of the Dave Schultz memorial international tournament at Colorado Springs, USA, in February, followed by freestyle wrestling World Cup in March, the two finally participated in the senior international competition in Sassari city, Italy, in May.
Putting to rest all apprehensions about how they would fare in their respective new weight categories and after a long break, the celebrated Indian wrestling duo sparkled on debut.
Having shifted from 60kg category, London Olympics bronze-medallist Yogeshwar won the gold in the 65kg division, while two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil bagged the silver in 74kg class.
Sushil, who had won a bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics before bettering his performance with a silver medal at the London Games four years later, had always contested in 66kg freestyle category. But the 31-year-old grappler, who had to add nine kilogrammes to adjust in his new weight bracket, made the jump look like a cake-walk.
After claiming a silver at the senior international tournament, Sushil asserted his class in the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, Scotland, winning all his four bouts en route a gold medal, rather comfortably. In the final against Qamar Abbas of Pakistan, the contest was over even before one could blink with Sushil pinning down his opponent in under two minutes to stamp his authority.
Yogeshwar also expectedly pocketed the gold with little trouble, using his trademark ‘fitele’ (leg-twisting) technique to great effect in all the four bouts he fought during the Commonwealth Games.
After a successful and exhausting campaign in Scotland, both Sushil and Yogeshwar decided to skip the next month’s World Championships at Tashkent in September, in order to be fit for the Asian Games, which was slated to be held later that month. Sushil, although, ultimately chose not to go to Asiad as well, citing that he wanted to focus solely on 2016 Olympic Games, Yogeshwar boarded the flight to Incheon and brought back a gold medal once again.
Meanwhile, the young Indian wrestlers in Amit Kumar, Bajrang, Rajiv Tomar and women grapplers, Babita Kumari and Vinesh Phogat, made sure the tri-colour continued to fly high at even those events where Sushil and Yogeshwar were not a part of the contingent.
Spearheaded by the two Olympic medallists, the youngsters lived up to the expectations at CWG, scooping 13 medals out of possible 14, including five gold.