New Delhi: The Greco-Roman style has always been a drawback for Indian wrestling. While the rise of Indian wrestling in recent years has largely been due to the freestyle categories, Greco-Roman has been the poor cousin, mostly relegated to the background.
However, if the performance at the Junior Asian Wrestling Championships here last week is anything to go by, Greco-Roman wrestling in India is showing signs of changing for the better.
With one gold, two silver and two bronze medals, the Greco-Roman wrestlers for once came close to matching their freestyle counterparts.
Sonu Khatri, the coach of the Indian Greco-Roman squad, is a proud man these days. Sitting among his students in the sweat-drenched warm-up hall at the Indira Gandhi Stadium — adjoining the main arena where the Junior Asian Championships was being held — Khatri was already dreaming of achieving greater glory in future.
“This time we have done really well in Greco-Roman categories. We had a three-month camp before the tournament where we tried to iron out weaknesses.
“We focussed more on the ground positions which has always been a weak point for Indian Greco-Roman wrestlers. In Greco-Roman wrestling, the ground positions hold a lot of importance. Most of our losses have been due to this reason. Unless you are perfect in both offensive and defensive moves in the ground positions, it is difficult to win against the best wrestlers,” Khatri told IANS.
“We also brought in foreign coaches for more specialised training on Greco-Roman techniques. The standing positions have always been our strong point. But is not that important as the ground positions decide the outcome of a bout. This new approach has borne fruit as several of our wrestlers have done well recently.
“We have been doing better since last year, when we clinched a Greco-Roman medal at the World Championships after a gap of 17 years,” he added.
Khatri heaped praise on Sajan, who defeated Shayan Hossein Afifi of Iran 3-0 in the 77 kilogram final to win the only Greco-Roman gold for India. It was the lone defeat on the opening day of the competition for the Iranians, who had won four of the five gold on offer that day.
“He is a world class wrestler. He had taken bronze at last year’s World Championships. He had prepared very hard for this tournament. Before that, we had last taken a World Championships Greco-Roman medal when Mukesh Khatri got bronze in 2001,” he said.
“This is his last year at the junior level. Both the junior and senior World Championships will take place in September. We are confident that he will bag medals in both tournaments,” the coach added.
India also bagged a rare silver in the 130kg division after Aryan Panwar suffered a narrow defeat to Amin Mohammadzaman Mirzazadeh of Iran in the final. Panwar had done well before conceding a late point to lose 1-2.
“We have always done well in heavyweight categories in freestyle wrestling. But we have now started performing the Greco-Roman as well. Last year we got silver in the Asian Junior Championships and repeated that performance this year,” Khatri said.
“We were lagging behind in the Greco-Roman categories earlier. But those days are now over. We are now doing well ina consistent manner. Earlier, we used to be satisfied by just qualifying for the Olympics, Asian Games or World Championships. But now every wrestler competes with the aim of winning gold.”