The answer to this question has been allowed to hang on for too long by the Wrestling Federation of India, WFI and the Indian Olympic Association, IOA. The stalemate sprang up when Narsingh Yadav won the bronze medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas last year and earned an Olympic quota place for India. As per the Olympic Qualification System, the wrestler only secures the berth for the country and the relevant sporting body of that country is free to nominate anyone else, if it so desired. Now how did Sushil Kumar’s name pop up? Sushil is one Indian wrestler, who has won back-to-back medals for India at the Beijing and London Olympics in the 66 kg category. He got the bronze at Beijing in 2008 and Silver at London in 2012. However since 2013, the International Wrestling Federation has rejigged the weight categories and 66 Kg category doesn’t exist anymore. Therefore if Sushil had to qualify, he needed to participate in the 74 kg category at the World Wrestling Championships, where Narsingh went. Sushil couldn’t go to Vegas because he was suffering from a shoulder injury. However, Narsingh winning the bronze at Vegas allowed Sushil to stake his claim because the quota place belonged to India and not to Narsingh as per the rules. Now WFI is caught between a rock and a hard place and the delay in making announcement is fueling the speculations.
Many people think Sushil Kumar deserves to be nominated in place of Narsingh because he is the only Indian wrestler to have won two medals in two different Olympic Games. But that is not the sufficient argument for many reasons. It should not be forgotten that Sushil won those medals in the 66 kg category and may not achieve the same performance in the 74 kg category. Though Narsingh Yadav didn’t win any medal at the London Games, he participated in the 74 kg category. Sushil remained out of action for the whole of 2013 after London and returned to the mat for an invitation tournament in Italy in 2014. He won a silver in that tournament but Narsingh won the gold at the same tournament a year later. Sushil got the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games gold but the level of competition at the CWG is such that Sushil would have won it even with his eyes closed.
When the 26-year old Narsingh Yadav won the bronze medal and the quota place for India at the World Wrestling Championships, he introduced a new term ‘dhak’ to the international wrestling lexicon. Narsingh used dhak against French wrestler Zelimkhan Khadjiev in his crunch fight, when the Indian was trailing Khadjiev by 8 points. Narsingh’s dhak resulted in his win by a fall in just 40 seconds and India earned the Olympic berth. Dhak consists of holding the opponent by his head before flipping him over and pinning him to the floor. In India, mud-akhada wrestlers use dhak on a routine basis but internationally no one practices it. Narsingh Yadav is a Mumbai man and lives in the slums of Jogeshwari, where local wrestlers have constructed mud-akhadas for their fights. As a small child, Narsingh got his motivation from the applause by his school classmates upon winning a tournament. At the age of 14, he joined Sports Authority of India’s Kandivli Center in Mumbai and trained under Jagmal Singh, who is now the assistant coach of the national team.
Coming back to the Narsingh-Sushil Rio qualification controversy, it would be fair to nominate Narsingh. Not because, he earned the quota place for India but the man has been making constant improvement in his wrestling skills. He came in the limelight, when he won the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold at New Delhi. However, Sushil and his supporters think that Narsingh has only won the quota place and the selection should be based on a trial between Narsingh and Sushil to decide the strongest and the best wrestler. The WFI, however, has not taken a call yet and that has made the controversy become more unseemly. The Federation is in a fix because picking one over the other will be akin to victimizing the one left out. In the past, the paths of the two wrestlers were different because of the different weight categories. But both Sushil and Narsingh had humble beginnings. The Delhi-based Sushil’s father was a bus driver while Narsingh’s father was a milkman and they lived in a Mumbai slum. The wrestling talents have taken them to new highs with national recognition and now one of them will represent India at the Rio Olympics.