The Punjab team were ready to leave the stadium after the fights on the first day of the Cadet National Championships in Patna. As they made their way to the hostel, an announcement for the tag team title was made. While Haryana took the first position, Delhi finished second. However, what took everyone by surprise was Punjab’s third place.
The coaches and wrestlers were pleasantly surprised and rushed to collect the trophy. Two silver medals and the same number of bronze medals had earned them 104 points. It was too less than the Delhi 181 but more than the 91 Services.
The architects of these medals were four Greco-Roman wrestlers who showed extreme courage and skill on a cold day to finish with Punjab’s best team result in a decade. Arshdeep Singh led the pack, winning four of his bouts with technical superiority before losing in the 80kg class final to Delhi’s Vijender.
Arshdeep Singh was one of the best in India in the lowest weight category, winning silver medals at the Asian U15 Championships for two consecutive years. Still 14 years old, he competed in his first Cadet National Championships, finishing second best.
âThe medals I have won internationally give me a lot of confidence,â said Arshdeep Singh. âBut winning medals here is what tells me where I stand. Greco-Roman is not the most popular style in India, but we train hard.
He started wrestling at Akhada Faridkot at the age of seven. It was at the insistence of his father, himself a wrestler, that he took up sport. Balbir Singh, whose wrestling career was cut short after losing an arm, wants his son to never quit the sport.
âI was preparing for my National Under-17 Championships when I received an electric shock at home and my arm had to be cut off during the operation,â he said. âSo I wanted him to fight. My younger brother Randhir Singh was also an international wrestler.
While Arshdeep Singh was fortunate to have a home wrestling pedigree, another silver medalist Sukhwinder Singh was not so lucky. Another debutant at the National Cadet Championships, he lost to Chetan of Delhi in the gold medal match. He had impressed with his big throws throughout the day but failed to repeat the same in the final.
Growing up in Bangi Nihal Singh, Bathinda, Sukhwinder Singh had no knowledge of sport and mostly helped her father who is a daily bet on construction sites. It was later when he was sent to the Boys Sports School in Ghudda that he began to practice wrestling.
“I have never participated in any competition at the national level,” he said. “It’s amazing to win here and I hope I can help my family.”
Need government support
Punjab coach Inderjeet Singh, who has also worked with the Indian team for the past five years, hopes the success of these wrestlers will open the eyes of the state government. âWrestling in Punjab has potential and we have seen it here and even in senior level competitions,â he added.
Sahil, a bronze medalist, is the son of a traveling merchant from Amritsar.
âHe’s always tried to be successful and this bronze medal is going to make a difference for him and his family,â said Inderjeet Singh. âAmritsar has a good wrestling culture, but the lack of facilities is forcing a lot of people out of the sport. Sahil hung on.
Punjab was once the best state in wrestling and produced two-time Asian Games gold medalist Kartar Singh and former junior world champion Palwinder Singh Cheema. But over the past two decades, the state has lost its luster.
Last year, Sandeep Singh Mann became the Punjab’s first national champion in nine years in freestyle. However, Greco-Roman wrestling has been on the rise for some time. Gurpreet Singh and Harpreet Singh spearheaded the ascension.
With another good fate for the Greco-Roman wrestler from Punjab at the cadet level, coaches hope the state will regain its wrestling power.
âThe Punjab has a huge dangal culture, but we need mat wrestlers to have a chance to compete with other big states,â said Inderjeet Singh. âThe government should invest more in these children. They are the future.