New Delhi, Sep 20 (IANS) Sushil Kumar's World Championship title has brought hope for Indian wrestling, which was rocked by a doping scandal in the runup to the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games here.
Indian wrestlers have a good record at the Commonwealth Games, winning 23 gold, 24 silver and 11 bronze medals. The discipline, which was not part of the 2006 Melbourne Games, is expected to boost India's medal tally at home.
But four members of the Commonwealth Games squad - Arjuna awardee Rajeev Tomar (120kg), Sumit (74kg), Mausam Khatri (96kg) and woman wrestler Gursharanpreet Kaur (72kg) tested positive for banned substance (methylhexaneamine) in the dope tests conducted by National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), raising serious doubts over their preparations.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), however, Saturday handed a lifeline to the athletes after it shifted methylhexaneamine from 'non-specified to 'specified' category which means the offenders can be let-off with just a warning. Their reinduction in the squad for the Commonwealth Games, though, looks doubtful as their replacements have already been announced.
"The dope issue has hit us at a wrong time. Our wrestlers had prepared hard for the Commonwealth Games since the sport is making a comeback after not being a part of the Melbourne Games," India's wrestling coach Jagmender Singh told IANS.
Jagmender said Sushil's world title in Moscow has lifted the morale of the 21 wrestlers who are all geared up to target at least 13-14 gold medals from all the 21 weight categories.
"Sushil is a champion wrestler and his victory has boosted the confidence of the wrestlers in the camp."
In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that Sushil's bronze medal performance at the Beijing Olympics has given a fillip to the sport.
On his part, Sushil said he is eager to do well at the Commonwealth Games.
"I really missed the 2006 Melbourne Games. During that time I was reigning Commonwealth champion and I would have surely won the gold. But since then I have worked hard to win an Olympic medal and the World Championship title. It will be a big moment for me if I can win a gold medal in front of my home crowd," he said.
In the runup to the Commonwealth Games, Indian wrestlers had some good performances at home. They won 19 gold in last year's Commonwealth Senior Championship in Jalandhar and seven medals (two gold, one silver and four bronze) came from the Senior Asian Wrestling Championship held here earlier this year.
India's best performance in Commonwealth Games came at the 1970 Edinburgh Games when they won five gold, three silver and a bronze. In the 2002 Manchester Games, India won six medals - three gold, two silver and a bronze.
Jagmender is confident that Indian wrestlers at home will surpass the Edinburgh medal's tally.
"In the last seven years, Indian wrestlers have done well on the world stage. Most of the wrestlers in the team have won medals at the Asian or at the World stage, so I feel winning medals in the Commonwealth Games won't be a tough task for our wrestlers," he said.
Jagmender pointed out that besides Sushil (66kg), Yogeshwar Dutt (60kg), Anil Kumar (55kg) and 2002 CWG silver medallist Anuj Kumar (84kg) are medal prospects in the men's freestyle category while Rajinder Kumar (55kg), Ravinder Singh (60kg), Sunil Kumar (66kg) and Dharmendar Dalal (120 kg) have their chances in the Greco-Roman category.
In the women's section, Jagmender said he has high hopes from Arjuna Award winner Alka Tomar (59kg). Alka won bronze medals at the Doha Asian Games and the World Championships in China in 2006.
"Alka is a world class wrestler and she will be a medal prospect at the Games. We also have expectations from Babita Kumari (51 kg) and Geeta (55kg)," he said.
"The national camp at Sonepat is going well and the wrestlers are training hard. The sports ministry and the federation have provided us with all the facilities," he added.
Jagmender said the four dope-tainted wrestlers were potential medal winners.
He is pinning hopes on Narsingh Yadav, who replaced Sumit in the 74kg category, and rates him highly.
"We can expect a medal from Narsingh. He has been performing well," said Singh.
Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) secretary general Kartar Singh, also an Asian Games gold medallist, was confident of a good show by the Indian wrestlers.
"I don't think the doping scandal will have any affect on our performance. Our wrestlers have trained hard for the Commonwealth Games and we will win a medal in all the 21 categories," he said.
Greco-Roman: Rajender Kumar (55kg), Ravinder Singh (60kg), Sunil Kumar (66kg), Sanjay Kumar (74 kg), Manoj Kumar (84kg), Anil Kumar (96kg) and Dharmender Dalal (120kg)
Female wrestlers: Nirmala Devi (48kg), Babita Kumari (51kg), Geeta (55kg), Alka Tomar (59kg), Suman Kundu (63kg), Anita (67kg) and Anshu Tomar (72kg)
Freestyle: Anil Kumar (55kg), Yogeshwar Dutt (60kg), Sushil Kumar (66kg), Narsingh Pancham Yadav (74kg), Anuj Kumar (84kg), Anil Mann (96kg), Praveen (120kg)