For Indian wrestlers, the Olympics means practicing for an alien turf

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Jalandhar/Patiala, July 18 : Indian wrestling, which dates back to 5th century B.C, has undergone several changes over the centuries. The most recent changes have been the influence of western methodologies and expectations for international competitions like the Olympics.

Indian wrestlers are generally known to practice or play local matches in dug earthen pits. But ahead of the international competitions they have to prepare themselves for mat wrestling. any believe this is one of the major reasons why not many wrestlers succeed in international competitions.

Despite the fact that international wrestlers are required to play their matches on mats, it is the dug pits that are usually preferred due to their popularity among wrestling lovers, especially in rural areas. It ensures a consistent source of income and popularity for wrestlers in general.

The lure of financial security throughout the year compels many of the promising youngsters to opt for turf wrestling instead of mat - which is the international norm.

Kamaljit Singh, one wrestler, said: "Turf wrestling is more popular because there is money in it. There are many contests in turf arenas. It ensures a regular income for wrestlers. Wrestling on the mat is very limited, with very few tournaments held in a year. For this reason, young wrestlers prefer mat wrestling. If we start having more competitions on mat, wrestlers will start concentrating and practicing and then we can surely win Olympic medals."

Indian wrestlers have won several medals in the Asian and Commonwealth games, but they have largely failed to replicate their feats at platforms like the Olympics.

Most wrestlers blame their basic training on turf for their failure to excel on the big stage - where competitions are held on the mat.

However, institutions like the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala are doing their bit to provide facilities to wrestlers who have qualified for national championships.

The Punjab sports department has now converted turf courts into mat.

Kartar Singh, the Secretary General for the Wrestling Federation of India, said: "We started late, but now wrestling in India is changing, especially in Punjab where every district has mat facility for wrestling. In Jalandhar alone, there are 8-9 centres like Hansraj Stadium, Sports school where mats are available for practice. Now mats are compulsory for international wrestling."

This year, over a billion Indians are pinning their Olympic hopes on three wrestlers who are bound for Beijing.

And, the Indian Wrestling Federation has brought in three coaches from Georgia to give tactical training to the Olympic hopefuls.

Yogeshwar Dutt, one Beijing Olympic qualified wrestler,: "Foreign coaches are making a huge difference to our preparations. They know most of the wrestlers and their styles pretty well. They have come from the Russian region and most of the good wrestlers come from that region. From Asia, the good wrestlers come from Iran, Japan and Korea. They know which wrestler uses what technique and that is really helpful for us in our preparations."

Rajiv Tomar, another Beijing Olympic qualified wrestler: "We still have two months and the way our practice and performance is going on and the way the foreign coaches are working with us, we are close to a medal. We will try our best to bring a medal home and make India proud."

Despite being the world's second most populous nation, India so far has only won four individual medals in Olympic history.

But this time, the Indian freestyle wrestlers are hopeful of doing better. y Sunil Kataria

ANI

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