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Results for Indian wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya at the World Championships should warn that the country is lagging in a rapidly evolving sport.

Results for Indian wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya at the World Championships should warn that the country is lagging in a rapidly evolving sport.

Results for Indian wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya at the World Championships should warn that the country is lagging in a rapidly evolving sport. India’s wrestling doyen Mahabali Satpal warns: “US mazboot hoke aayaa hai [The strong US has come to this World Championship].”

Results for Indian wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya at the World Championships should warn that the country is lagging in a rapidly evolving sport.
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The seasoned wrestling coach, ace schemer, and medal-hunter par excellence of the last decade who launched a wrestling renaissance with Sushil Kumar – still India’s lone World Champion – is alluding to USA’s 4 gold, 4 silver out of the 10 men’s freestyle categories available.

On a streak at the Stark Arena in Belgrade, maybe helped by Russian absence and Japanese reluctance to risk injury, the Americans topped the count, also capturing 3 gold and 2 silver in the women’s categories.

Satpal’s assessment wasn’t a simple statement of superiority. He was well aware of the missing Russians and how the odds of gold will get steeper in the 2023 World Championship edition.

Next year with Paris Games quotas at play next year, a crown will be difficult to nail. His courageously torn grasping ears pricked with desperation about the following two years.

“Paris will arrive soon. We must plan immediately,” he added with the zeal of someone who planned India’s 2008 and 2012 gold.

The Bajrang Punia bronze should be celebrated and then put away for future planning. Ravi Dahiya’s no-medal performance required a rethink, while younger athletes like Naveen (74 kg) needed a boost.

Foreign coaches are considered a cultural hoo-ha and an affront to India’s local wisdom. The realistic and not-so-revolutionary idea of bringing in American coaching knowledge is unavoidable.

Indians respect Russian coaches’ technical nous and ability to keep in the background and not hog credit, which costs a fraction of what an American pro would cost.

System reboot

For that slap-shaping, brutally frank professionalism, India will need to reset their system to fit American standards, even if they can’t cart in the individuals.

The western powerhouse dominated gold, but the entire wrestling attitude is changing: worldwide freestyle wrestling is thirsty for technical victory.

The Indians beat their opponents by outlasting, bullying, and beating them. Globally, faster, snappier, smarter technical wrestling has replaced it.

Suppose you looked past Bajrang’s strapped head and focused on how American Yianni Diakomihalis turned the Indian’s legs to jelly three years after pounding him. In that case, you’d realize how far the American program has come.

Indians fear falling behind if they don’t shake off their Commonwealth Games complacency and junior medal-induced sluggish limbo, while the seniors’ Worlds results were a howler. Yianni is training with Kyle Drake for a Paris run. Bajrang trained at the American stomp before winning bronze.

He noted how the two prepared. “Their training matches competition times.” If the competition starts at 10.30, they’ll train at 10am. They replicate a 4pm break. We train at 6am because it’s routine. They plan shorter breaks. They train with weather and food changes in mind. Sparring partners are excellent since you learn their fighting style. American fashion is unique.

Indians will call for “aur zyada mehnat” after Ravi’s 10-0 Round 2 loss. More akhada work. After a tough Worlds, he may need advice on how to unwind and plan an offseason. Foreign coaches, always viewed with distrust and derision, can lend professionalism to this slightly stilted sport.

American Andrew Cook, a former women’s coach, was fired with such icy apathy that he’s saddened and puzzled. But Indians tend to put too much stock on junior results, ignore age fraud that bulges them, and refuse to change their coaching tactics when near-routs like the senior Worlds (two bronzes) happen. It’s ignored that seniors aren’t succeeding at the highest level.

The Ravi rattle

Ravi Dahiya had one awful off day when he couldn’t stop Gulomjon Abdullaev, conceded a sequence of 2-pointers, allowing huge pressure to build, and couldn’t execute his own offensive technique. No one can guarantee that another “poor off day” won’t derail him as he tries to qualify for Paris and win gold there.

Too brilliant to be overlooked, the Tokyo silver medalist has consistency and weight cut concerns at 57kg. Big men can find weight cuts brutal.

Kripashankar Bishnoi, a former Arjuna awardee and now commentator, says the 10-0 loss wasn’t a close “unneesa over beesa” Ravi is too good a wrestler to be stopped.

His weight cuts can affect his workouts. So peaking for CWG, reducing weight, then building strength and stamina, then cutting. This can impact brain oxygen on bout days and slow the body, even if the mind is pressing a move. Extreme weight changes cause muscle weakness, poor coordination, significant injuries, and mental weakness.

Bishnoi, a devotee of Ravi’s bagal doob, thinks weight cutbacks are restricting his style and ability as muscles loosen with dehydration. He needs coaching and diet changes to prevent a recurrence.

His opponents use alternative techniques. When opponents move low, his feet-apart posture, while stable, can make him vulnerable to leg sweeps. He uses his extended hand to reach for gut wrenches and pick-and-falls. But he was unusually stiff against the Uzbek, late on his counters and hesitant to react when opponents shot at his leg.

It’s the Uzbek’s third win versus Ravi in five encounters. He’s stockpiled points for single leg attacks, exerting pressure and nullifying Ravi’s locks careening into stalemates. In the second period, Ravi’s leg was penetrated before his hands could respond to duck-unders.

A closer, more compact hand posture with dipped hips may fight off strikes to his straight legs. Or six step-outs. The Indian has a nemesis from his junior days who doesn’t pass on repechage perks and falls before the finals.

Abdullaev was a problem. Ravi’s inability to drag it out surprised everyone.

The Bajrang boggle

Bajrang’s leg defense has been raising wincing posers. Overconfidence precipitated his demise against an American he could have beaten three years ago.

Bajrang ups his aggression, hoping the power barrel keeps blazing for six minutes. He works as hard as he did five years ago, which may not be smart for his body, which has to conserve speed bursts for a more comfortable 2-1 win instead of 11-9s each time.

Smarter match pacing will require stronger leg defense, which he lacks. Against faster, craftier opponents with stronger defense, he may not be able to pull off the rallies he valiantly accomplished in Belgrade to win a shocking 4th medal.

Because you may wait indefinitely on mud (some dangals last 2-3 hours) and gauge opponents before using the technique, you rely on crushing, pummeling power game more than speed and agility. No backslapping.

Mud fights involve a lot of standing grappling, therefore, ground attacks and smaller muscles aren’t intrinsic. Bajrang kept opponents at bay and replied with speed and strength,” Bishnoi says.

Stocky, short, and fast, Sushil Kumar. He could squat like a tiger and cling to the mat on his belly without losing phitle or waist holds. Speed and intelligence made his leg elusive, something seldom seen in a week of feeble leg defenses.

Americans conduct speed training and shuttle runs, which an Indian wrestler may not want to do as the sport becomes more agile and quick-reflexed.

Coaching stuck

Support staff like physiotherapists and masseuses are not considered as non-negotiable due to a lack of scientific training. Bishnoi is annoyed by unchangeable, crusty coaching options.

“I doubt elite levels undertake proper video analysis. We still have wardens that aren’t the best coaches. India reveres wrestling. Every country has a history with the sport. Therefore, India isn’t unique. This is a global sport. Thus, Bajrang’s bronze is impressive. All leading countries are progressing quickly and updating training. He urges us to.

Bishnoi was upset when a senior coach opened the bathroom door for a senior federation official. He argues coaches should be hired based on skills, not kowtowing. Indians have more international exposure, but coaching is flawed.

Virender, Bajrang and Deepak Punia’s coach, feels the gap is growing. “In India, you return with a medal and play a hero while the dhols drum. In other top countries, they’ll return the next day and start preparing the next event. Too little video analysis.”

Indian coaches are apprehensive of cracking whips on medaling wrestlers because of the badaa pehlwaan’s veneration. Indian coaches don’t like learning from outsiders either.

The horrible planning that crammed CWG, trials, and Worlds into six weeks will continue. Arbitrary trials used to place wrestlers or pit a junior against senior lack transparency. Wrestlers are independent, don’t trust the system, and have no team ethos.


Satpal remembers his Beijing and London diet, weather recces, and minute planning that won early gold.

After losing medal chances in Munich and Moscow, he blamed food (“aaloo ni khaaya jaata tha oil ki vajah se, aur 10kg milk every day ki aadat thi. Who’s hungry? [I couldn’t eat potatoes due to oil and drank 10kg of milk daily. He guaranteed Sushil and co. didn’t suffer. “We must monitor exterior and inside temperatures. Detailing: “Food must be soothing.”

Ravi would’ve been studied by now, so he emphasizes video analysis. “First we need analysts, then coaches who can use those findings,” he says, recalling his 2008 journal entries.

The Worlds (perhaps in Budapest) will be the simple aim for Indian wrestlers next year, but the runup promises intrigue. If the trials overwhelm the wrestling, it might be another surprise World Championship. If 2022 drags into 2023, it may be too late to plan.

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