Mumbai:”Pakad, pakad, pakad”
These words resonated across the athletic field at the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Kandivli, in the wee hours of Tuesday. A group of budding wrestlers had formed a neat circle right in the middle of the field, and were playing a game of kho kho on an overcast morning.
Amidst those youngsters was an odd one out. Not because he looked older, not because he was heftier, but because he wore a constant smile.
That joyful face was of Narsingh Pancham Yadav, the wrestler who is set to represent India in the 74 kg category at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Or at least that is what he thinks.
The 26-year-old is among the first to get into the circle once SAI wrestling coach GS Sangha says it’s time to do so sharp at 7 am. He watches each of his co-wrestlers trying to tag the defender, and passes a comment after almost every tag.
“Kya baat hai,” “Aur tez, aur tez” are some of the sentences that come out of his mouth.
Once it’s his turn to chase, Yadav takes off like it’s a 100m sprint, and after about six seconds, tags the defender. “Kho” he yells, making sure everyone has heard it. They sure have. The job done, he steadies himself, gets both his hands together, and breaks into a mighty laugh.
Such heartfelt, raw emotions can be hard to generate for a guy who has been dragged to court by his senior wrestler, who is battling for his place in the Olympics with two months to go despite having clinched it a year ago. Far from worrying about it, Yadav is thinking of his next tag.
“The Olympics is nearing. I need to focus more on my speed work,” Yadav says after the 30-minute game.
Indeed, in his mind, there is no ambiguity. Sushil Kumar might have been demanding a trial to decide who among the two represents the country at the Games, but Yadav is confident that he will board the flight to Rio after he claimed his place by winning bronze in the 2015 World Championships.
“My parents told me, ‘don’t listen to all these things. These things keep happening in India. You focus on your game. Game hai tabhi toh hum hai (We are there because the game is there)’.
“That’s why I don’t let these things affect me. I divert all my attention to training. You must have seen I’m training all morning. No one knows what the future holds, but that doesn’t mean I stop training. A sportsperson should be ready to face all situations, and I’m ready,” he says, wiping off his sweat.
His coach Sangha, who has been coaching at the national wrestling camps from 2007 to 2010 and knows both Yadav and Kumar well, says the former’s biggest asset is that he never lets his mind sit idle.
“You will see him doing something or the other. If he is not training on the mat, he will play basketball or kabaddi or any other sport. He will never just sit at one place and do nothing. That’s the reason why he is staying at the SAI hostel despite having a house in Mumbai,” Sangha says, adding. “Bada shanth pehelwan hai (He’s a very clam wrestler.)”
There is little hurt
The remarkable ability to zone oneself out from the outside world notwithstanding, controversies such as the one that has hit Yadav can affect even the strongest of persons. Even the deputy superintendent of police admits that deep down, it has pierced his heart a bit.
“Look, it does affect you somewhere deep inside. It did hurt me a little,” he says. “To tell you honestly, I feel that this could have been avoided. To see these things happening everyday, the media wanting your reaction everyday, such things are not good for a player. Whatever is happening is wrong. Whoever has qualified has to go for Olympics. You have to follow a system. A player cannot be bigger than than the game.
“The focus for the Olympics needs to be for a sustained period of time. He (Kumar) could’ve given a trial before the world championship, where it would’ve actually mattered. Everything is clear, and yet everything is being blown out of proportion.”
Yadav is particularly unhappy that Kumar had to knock on the doors of the Delhi High Court on Monday in the hope of a favourable verdict for him.
“I hear he has gone to the court?” Yadav cross-checks. “Such things don’t find a place in sports. Tomorrow if anything happens, every sportsperson will move the court. Then why are there sports federation? Why is there a ministry? Why is there a government? They are investing so much money in us. They know wrestling well, that’s why they are sitting there,” he says.
A promise to self
The feeling of assurance that Yadav wore earlier turns into a palpable sense of frustration gradually. It stems from the fact that Yadav had chalked out a definite roadmap for his Rio ticket not one year, but four years ago, when he crashed out of the opening round of the 2012 London Olympics.
“In the last Olympics, I didn’t do well. Since then, I had made a promise to myself that I will to win a medal for India at the Olympics. And thus, I began training doubly hard for the World Championships (in 2015), knowing that if I do well there, my dream would turn into reality directly. So I had planned all this for a long time. I put my blood and sweat into it. No one can take that away from me suddenly,” he says.
“But somewhere,” he is quick to add. “I had a gut feeling that such things will crop up, because such things happen once a person becomes a bigger name. Also, people just want some topic to discuss upon. All these words being thrown around – quota, trials – they are just for people to talk. Why didn’t people mention all this before? Were there any trials before the 2008 or 2012 Olympics, when he (Kumar) participated? That time did he say, nahi bhai trial karte hai, jo best hoga who jaega (Let’s do a trial, whoever is best will go)?
“Today, when it comes to Olympics, and after I’ve done everything, he is making a noise about it. He has achieved whatever he has in 66 kg. I’ve been fighting and winning medals in the 74kg category for the past 10 years. My achievements have been no less,” Yadav says.
I know I’m right
And, yet, Kumar has received a lot of support in the social media, the man himself tweeting a few days ago to prime minister Narendra Modi and sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal with the hash tag “justice4sushil” in the hope of getting an audience with them. Yadav, on the other hand, has remained relatively low-key.
“That’s because I know I’m right, everyone knows I’m right. If I write on Facebook today asking people to support me, if I go to the PM, if I go to the sports minister, why is no one doing anything about it? If I was wrong and he was right, everyone would’ve stepped in.
“Even a non-sportsman, a layman, a kid on the street will tell you what the right thing is. Everyone in social media is supporting Sushil. People can speak for whoever they want, but they will realise how it actually feels only once it happens to them,” he adds.
Spirits are up
Amidst the social media talks, it’s time for Yadav to come back to the real world. An hour-long session of weight training beckons him in a room besides the wrestling arena with an open door separating the two. Four groups of two wrestlers are taking on each other, and Yadav has one eye on each of them.
“I won’t let all this dampen my spirits,” he says. “One thing is for sure, I’ll be going to Rio and winning a medal for my country. Jo bhi hoga acha hoga (Whatever will happen, will happen for the good.”
Just as the sentence completes, a young grappler makes a move to pin his opponent down in the other room. Yadav watches that.
“Pakad, pakad, pakad,” he says, eyes unfluttered..
HISTORY OF THE TUSSLE
It all started when Sushil Kumar, who returned with a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics in the 66 kg category, was forced to move to the 74 kg after the world body FILA did away with the 66 kg category in 2013
After that, Kumar has participated in only one international tournament, the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where he clinched the gold. Incidentally, Sushil was sent to Glasgow without a trial with Narsingh Yadav
Since then, the two-time Olmypic medallist opted out of the 2014 Asian Games, 2015 World Championships, 2015 Asian Championships and Pro Wrestling League last year
Meanwhile, Yadav earned India the only quota for Rio Olympics in the 74kg category by winning a bronze medal at the World Championships
He also won bronze in the 2014 Asian Games and 2015 Asian Championships
However, Kumar has been demanding a trial between the two to select who should represent the country in the 74 kg category, saying quota belongs to the country and not a particular individual.
Kumar also cited the example of reigning world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, who had to undergo trials to make it to the US team for Rio
But Yadav remains adamant, saying it is his right to go to the Games since he earned the quota by winning the medal
Kumar moved the Delhi High Court on Monday after failing to find an audience with the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) or the sports ministry. The court, on Tuesday, directed WFI to hold a meeting with the wrestler. However, the body is not keen on conducting any trail
WHAT IS QUOTA?
A wrestler can clinch an Olympic quota place for the country in a particular weight category in any qualification events. However, that quota is for the country, not the individual wrestler. The national federation has the right to decide which wrestler will participate in a weight category in the Olympics. A nation can win only one quota place in each weight category.