Sushil-inspired Indian grapplers eyeing bagful of medals

Sushil's bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics brought wrestling in the limelight and then Ramesh Kumar added another bronze in last year's World Wrestling Championships in Denmark to maintain the rising profile of the sport.

However, just when it seemed everything was going right for the century-old sport in the country, came the doping controversies just ahead of the Commonwealth Games with four member of the Indian squad -– Arjuna awardee Rajeev Tomar (120kg), Sumit (74kg), Mausam Khatri (96kg) and woman wrestler Gursharanpreet Kaur (72kg) returning positive for a banned substance in dope tests conducted by NADA.

Two other wrestlers Rahul Mann (60kg) and Joginder Singh (120kg) who were not part of the Commonwealth Games squad were also tested positive for banned stimulant methylhexanamine. The four wrestlers in the Games squad were promptly dropped and their replacements announced.

Amid the dope mud, Sushil once again lifted the gloom when he made history earlier this month by becoming the first Indian to win a World Wrestling Championship gold medal.

He defeated local favourite Alan Gogaev to win the 66kg freestyle world title in Moscow.
With wrestling making its return to the Commonwealth Games after a break in Melbourne four years ago, the Sushil-led Indian contingent would be aiming their biggest medal haul in front of the home crowd.

Indians grapplers have done well in the Commonwealth Games, bagging 23 gold, 24 silver and 11 bronze medals so far with their best coming in the 1970 Edinburgh edition (5 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze).

Four years later in Christchurch, New Zealand, India finished with four gold, five silver and a bronze.

In 2002 Manchester Games, the last time Indian wrestlers had competed, India had done considerably well by picking up six medals -- three gold, two silver and a bronze.

This time around, with the absence of world class opposition in most categories and home advantage behind them, the Indian grapplers would be eyeing their best-ever show in the Commonwealth Games.

The Indian wrestlers would be boosted by some impressive performances in the world circuit off late, including 19 gold in last year's Commonwealth Senior Championship in Jalandhar and seven medals (2 gold, 1 silver and 4 bronze) in the Senior Asian Wrestling Championship held here earlier this year.

A charged up Sushil himself has high hopes from the Commonwealth Games and said having missed action in Melbourne as the sport was not included, he cannot wait to take the mat in Delhi.

"Wrestlers have always contributed to India's medals tally in the Commonwealth Games and we are excited to repeat the same performance again this time," the soft-spoken grappler said.

"I was disappointed wrestling was not there in 2006 Games. I won gold at the Commonwealth Championships, and was a strong contender for gold in Melbourne," he said.

Apart from Sushil, Yogeshwar Dutt (60kg), Anil Kumar (55kg) and 2002 CWG silver medallist Anuj Kumar (84kg) are the notable medal prospects in the men's freestyle category while Rajinder Kumar (55kg), Ravinder Singh (60kg), Sunil Kumar (66kg) and Dharmendar Dalal (120 kg) hold a lot of promise in the Greco-Roman wrestling.

If men are a potent force, Indian women grapplers are not far behind and are expected to win a few medals in the Delhi Games, where female wrestling will be making its debut.
Babita Kumari (51 kg), Geeta (55) and Arjuna awardee Alka Tomar (59) are India's best medal hopes in the women's section.

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