It’s not often that India have a representation in greco-roman wrestling at the Olympics. And the 2016 Rio Olympics will feature talented Haryana grappler Hardeep Singh in the 98-kg category.
Hardeep is the first Indian greco-roman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics in twelve years, and the first one to make the cut in the heavyweight category. The Railway employee, who started as a freestyle wrestler before switching to greco-roman wrestling, spoke about the upcoming Rio Olympics and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q. How does it feel to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics considering the fact that you are the country’s first greco-roman wrestler to represent the country after a gap of twelve years?
Bahut acha laga (Felt really good) when I reached the final of the 98-kg in the Asian Qualifying Tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan as it ensured my Olympic berth. My confidence is really high and I hope to build on this momentum at Rio. Our other greco-roman wrestlers fought really hard and lost narrowly and it is not that I only performed well. I know expectations will be high and I will strive to live up to them.
Q. You had bagged a silver medal at the 2016 Asian Wrestling Championship in Bangkok, where you lost to Iran’s Mehdi Aliyari in the 98-kg final.
Winning a silver medal at Bangkok really gave me a lot of self-belief – it made me feel that I can win on the big stage. Of course, I could not bring my A-game in the final and lost comprehensively to Mehdi, but the runners-up finish was good for my confidence ahead of the Olympic qualifiers in Astana.
Q. At the 2016 Asian Qualifying Tournament in Astana, you outwrestled opponents from Turkemistan and Kazakhstan en route to the final.
Both bouts were pretty one-sided. The semifinal against Margulan Assembekov was a tactical fought bout as I worked on tiring him out - it worked and I won easily.
Q. You did not take the ring for the final and conceded it to China’s Xiao Di owing to an elbow injury.
I had sustained this elbow injury during the 2016 Asian Wrestling Championship in Bangkok and some niggles were still there in Astana. I aggravated it more during my semifinal bout and my coaches keeping the Olympics in mind decided I concede the final bout.
Q. Greco-roman wrestling hasn’t seen much success in India unlike freestyle wrestling – you are only the sixth greco-roman grappler to qualify for the Olympics. Do you think your Olympic qualifying feat will serve as a big boost to the sport in the country?
I really hope so as I feel that there is lot of potential for greco-roman wrestling in India. I’m confident more greco-roman grapplers will burst on to the scene and reap laurels for the country.
Q. You have dominated the national scene as well in the greco-roman 98-kg category – it must have helped you when you hit the international stage.
Of course, it helps in a big way as there is nothing like winning. I have won the gold medal at the senior nationals for three consecutive years in greco-roman 98-kg – 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Q. You started off as freestyle wrestler early in your career but switched to greco-roman after the 2009 Junior Nationals.
I did start my wrestling career in freestyle category but in 2009 my coach Ranbir Singh asked me to switch to greco-roman and there has not been any looking back after that.
Q. Tell us a bit about your family?
I hail from Dohla village of Haryana's Jind district – my father is a farmer and I have one sister and one younger brother - both are married.
Q. You are 26 – you have got your younger brother married – when will you tie the knot?
Olympics is my focus area – I don’t think I will get married at least for next three-four years (grins).