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Jul 7, 2012

Standing on the shoulders of giants

By Rudraneil Sengupta & Anupam Kant Verma

India’s ancient and thriving tradition of ‘kushti’ influences its modern wrestlers at every step. But is it helping push the sport forward?

To understand the lure of wrestling in India, you need to go underground.

Leave the air-conditioned wrestling hall at Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi to your left, circumvent the colossal stadium, and walk down the yawning ramp that takes you to a vast underground parking facility constructed for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. An extraordinary scene unfolds here: In one corner, two giant yellow wrestling mats are laid out. A few feet away, a large earthen platform has been raised for kushti. Wrestlers of all ages, shapes and sizes, dressed in red or blue singlets, slam into each other on the mat. A handful of grapplers in white cotton G-strings, stained brick red by the earth, twist and turn out of vice-like holds in the mud pit. Shouts of instruction and encouragement reverberate through the labyrinthine compound.

This is the main training area for the 265 wrestlers at the Chhatrasal akhara, or wrestling school, run by Satpal Singh, one of India’s most successful former wrestlers. India’s sudden rise in international wrestling in the last decade has been carefully scripted here. This is where 2008 Olympic medallist and 2010 world champion Sushil Kumar, current Asian champion Yogeshwar Dutt, and the Asian junior champion and bronze medallist at the 2012 Asian Wrestling Championships in South Korea, Amit Kumar, were trained and nurtured. The trio now form the core of India’s four-member men’s freestyle wrestling team for the 2012 London Olympics. Before Sushil’s success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the akhara had around 90 students. In the space of four years, that number has almost tripled, necessitating this move from the single-mat wrestling hall to the parking lot.


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