History of the Greco-Roman stepson of Indian wrestling

Pappu Yadav was the first to rise from his seat. He rose with his arms in the air, long before applause rang out from the crowd. During the agonizing minutes of the Greco-Roman 87kg final at the Asian Wrestling Championships, he waved his arms, gestures few could decode – a ball of nervous energy exploding away from the action, without any control above. He was a fan, but he was also more.

Yadav, the fan, wanted the wrestler on the mat, the Greco-Roman Indian (I love the pun), a boy in his second consecutive Asian championship final, to win this gold medal and breaks a sequence of near misses. Yadav, the former wrestler – the last Indian to win gold in the discipline at an Asian championship – wanted to equal an old record.

And so when it happened – 15 seconds before it officially happened, in fact – Yadav was on his feet to applaud India’s first gold medal in the event in 27 years. To put this in perspective: Sunil Kumar, the grappler who broke this long barren drought, is 21 years old.

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“It feels good. It’s really good that this duck is finally broken,” Yadav said, a beaming smile on his face. Across the wrestling hall, in the mixed zone, surrounded by a few reporters. minutes earlier Sunil had expressed a similar sentiment It was a personal step forward, a huge boost for a young career.

But Yadav’s feelings got deeper. It was not an individual lawsuit, it was a collective demand. Redemption for a form of struggle very oppressed in the country. (So ​​underdog, in fact, that this website sent its not-so-regular wrestling reporter to cover the day’s events).

And why wouldn’t it be. The Greco-Roman, as its name suggests, is foreign to India.

A Greco-Roman wrestler in India is a freestyle wrestler turned rogue (or in some cases a freestyle wrestler settling into the style for lack of success). This is true no matter how deep you look in the wrestling spectrum in India. Sunil’s story is quite simple. He was an acrobatic wrestler with weakness in performing lower body attacks and switched disciplines on the advice of a senior at his training facility. He quickly found success and rose through the ranks to mark his authority as a talent to be reckoned with. Last year, in the same event, he was so close to history in the 85 kg category, beaten in the final by Iranian Hossein Ahmad Nouri.

At the KD Jadhav indoor stadium on February 18, there would be no rehearsal. Partly because his Iranian nemesis (not the same, but from the same mold) got injured in his semi-final fight with seconds to go for the finish. Despite a good lead, he was forced to forfeit and allow Kyrgyzstan Azat Salidinov to advance to the final. Sunil – who had made his own comeback in the semifinals, recovering from an eight-point deficit – was the favorite in form and at home.

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As unique and heartwarming as Sunil’s story is, it’s not much different from Arjun Halakurki, the 21-year-old competing in his first senior international wrestling championships. He won a bronze medal in the 55 kg category. Halakurki is from Bagalkot, a wrestling stronghold in Karnataka. Following in the footsteps of his acrobatic wrestling father, he embarked on the sport and discipline preferred by most of India. For 11 years he worked hard but rarely succeeded. Four years ago he made the transition to Greco-Roman. Last year, he became the first wrestler from Karnataka in over 25 years to win gold at the national championships. And at the Asian Championships, despite all the brilliance of Sunil, Halakurki could have pushed him to the post, if he had had a little more experience and a lot more calm. He was leading his semi-final 7-1 with less than a minute to go, before surrendering to lose 7-8.

“The Indian wrestling style is closest to the freestyle,” said national coach Hargobind Singh. “Greco-Roman is an alien concept to most grassroots wrestlers. At dangals and junior district competitions, there is no Greco-Roman.

As a result, it is inevitable that most wrestlers who end up tackling the Greco-Roman discipline come after learning the craft in a free way. As Hargobind says, lack of success, a trainer with a keen eye, and a wrestler with an easily malleable personality are key elements that make the transition easier.

“Even I only became El Greco’s coach because of the circumstances,” he says. Hargobind is a former national freestyle wrestling champion and, as a coach, was in charge of a team that was to compete in a national tournament. “There were two teams, and the agreement was that the lost team would participate in Greco. Luckily it was my team so we went to El Greco. And soon after, I changed, ”he adds.

In the early days, before YouTube videos and voyeurism on Twitter, coaches learned their trade through conversations, verbal advice, and research. Hargobind went to tournaments with his wards and got advice from European coaches. He borrowed and purchased many books which helped him learn techniques for teaching his students. A few years later he was at the Sydney Olympics as the personal trainer of 63kg Greco-Roman Gurbinder Singh.

“The transition is unique, but if the wrestler is young and impressionable it’s not hard to do,” says Hargobind. With Halakurki, he didn’t have to change much. Even as a freestyler, Halakurki’s stance was pretty straight and all Hargobind had to do was improve his conditioning and teach him new techniques. “If you have to change position, you have to take a few steps back,” he says, “It requires realignment of muscle memory. Wrestlers can get discouraged easily. Teaching them techniques is easier.

But even in technique, Indian wrestlers have traditionally suffered, due to a late start – a fact that several foreign coaches attached to the Greco-Roman national team in the past have vehemently emphasized. It has to do with how they started their careers. In strong wrestling nations, Greco-Roman wrestlers begin and end their careers in the discipline. Coaches identify talents early (when they are 8-10 years old) and instill values ​​from the start.

In India, the transition occurs – as witnessed by the cases of Sunil and Halakurki – in late adolescence. Until then, learning, unlearning and recalibrating muscle memory is taxing for the athlete. In essence, this makes a national level wrestler a novice against the internationals.

While it is easy to teach the techniques, it is much harder to break through them until they apply them without giving it much thought. Hargobind points out that Halakurki’s failure in the finals was due to his inexperience at the elite level. “The more he faces adversity, the better he will improve,” said the veteran coach.

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The importance of the upright stance in Greco-Roman – something Hargobind is careful to mention repeatedly – over the stooped, low center of gravity fighting stance in freestyle, is just the tip of the matter. ‘iceberg. The art form is obviously much more complex than that.

With a change in style, the application of techniques also differs. Most of the time, in Greco-Roman, the lever used for lifting and throwing, must be generated above the opponent’s center of gravity (freestylers have the luxury of using physics). This means that the conditioning of the body must change.

The specificity of the techniques is also very different. Greco-Roman wrestlers thrive in hitting and establishing hooks while standing. An interior handle allows them to attempt suplexes. While punches are also common in freestyle, the style and angle of approach to the body is drastically different.

On the ground, rolls and key lifts and throws, including suplexes (back somersaults) are common. These are rarely used in freestyle and when a freestyler wrestler switches to Greco-Roman at, say, 16, he’s asked to do things he’s rarely done on the mat before.

With all these obstacles, Sunil’s gold needs to be recognized, regardless of the quality of the exposed terrain.

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And, as much as the medal is a new dawn for the discipline, Hargobind says the revolution has been brewing for some time. He maintains that Indian Greco-Roman wrestlers still have a long way to go to catch up with Europeans, but at an Asian level, he believes his wards are almost there. But there is a lot to do.

“Some of the big problems are that there is no Greco-Roman wrestling at the Commonwealth Games. The Pro-League doesn’t have it either. It’s obvious. Wrestlers won’t go for this if there is no potential for competition and reward, ”he says. The lack of competition extends beyond the borders of India. “If a European Greco-Roman wrestler wants to participate in events and make himself known, he can go to a neighbor’s house and there will be a tournament. Almost all of the countries out there are good at it. Here, you have to go very far in Asia to find competition worthy of attention.

It’s true. Despite the success of Sunil and Halakurki, the lack of quality on the pitch is glaring. Asian competitions are not the hub of the great Greco-Romans. The fact is amplified by the fact that this is an Olympic year and the Asian qualifiers are not too far away. Too many good wrestlers blew up the Delhi event.

For those who watch and rejoice at this first gold in a quarter of a century, these facts are not worth discussing. “I always come to watch the Greco event,” says Yadav. “Everyone is getting ready for the freestyle and the program as such, but people like me come to see El Greco. And today, faith has been redeemed in gold.

(With contributions from Leslie Xavier)

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Robert J. King