BY SUHRID BARUA
PUNE: The Army Sports Institute (ASI), Ghorpadi is fast emerging as a breeding ground for churning out talented wrestlers, who have made a mark on the world stage. For the last couple of years, ASI has been instrumental in unearthing new talents in wrestling, thanks to the systematic implementation of ‘Mission Olympics’ scheme aimed at producing medal-winning matmen for 2008 Olympics and 2010 Commonwealth Games.
"We have identified three categories among the pool of wrestlers at our disposal. We have the juniors (aged 12-17), sub-juniors (aged 17-20) and seniors (aged 20+-26). "The basic idea is not just to have a smooth transition once the seniors fade away from the mat, but also to ensure wrestlers are performing on a consistent basis and not resting on past laurels," said Lt. Gen. Shivaji Babar, the man who supervises wrestling under the able leadership of Col. Satpal Ahelawat, Commandant of Army Sports Institute here.
Babar says wrestlers from ASI have been regularly in the medal bracket in recent times due to the hard work put in by Belarusian coach Leonid Liverman. "Liverman took charge of our wrestlers in 2004 and since March 2006 our wrestlers have started to show positive results at the international level," Babar said.
It is worth recalling that ASI grapplers have been enjoying a decent run in recent times. It all started at the 2006 Doha Asian Games where ASI wrestler Vinayak Dalvi won a bronze in 55-kg greco-roman event.
And in doing so, he created a landmark of becoming the first Indian wrestler to win an Asian Games medal after a hiatus of 38 years.
The 2006 Military World Wrestling Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, served another opportunity for ASI grapplers to showcase their prowess and Bhausaheb Patil made his strong presence felt, scooping up a silver in the 66-kg category.
The 'Pehelwans' from ASI continued their stellar run, bagging two bronze medals at the 2007 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in Canada. Manoj Kumar (84 kg) and Kanhyalal Yadav (55 kg) rose to the occasion to pick up gold in their respective weight categories.
Babar feels wrestlers must not get complacent and look to cash in on their present good run. "Our grapplers have done well for themselves so far. This is an important year for us with the world championship and world military games slated to be held later this year. Surely, the way our wrestlers are performing, we can definitely expect our wrestlers to be among the medals."
He, however, sounded a note of caution about preparations for the World Wrestling Championship. "The Baku (Azerbaijan) World Wrestling Championship assumes a lot of importance for us.
"The top eight finishers in each category will qualify for 2008 Olympics, and considering that we would want the maximum number of wrestlers to make the cut," Babar explained.
Startingly, Babar also revealed how wrestlers had to burn a hole in their pockets to take part in the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in Canada. "Our wrestlers had to foot their own expenses for the trip. Neither the Sports Ministry nor the Wrestling Federation of India were able to fund the wrestlers. We are talking to the Sports Ministry regarding this and are extremely hopeful of something positive emerging for the future," he opined with a splash of hope.