“Give me four minutes, I’ll come back with the belt you left there,” Suraj Vashisht told an inconsolable Ronit Sharma moments before stepping onto the mat for his Under-17 World Wrestling Championships final. in Rome on Tuesday. Sharma had just missed the 48kg gold medal moments ago, and it was up to Suraj to end India’s 32-year wait for a Worlds gold medal in Greco-Roman.
Suraj followed the conversation, but not exactly in four minutes. He decimated reigning European champion Azerbaijan Faraim Mustafayev 11-0 in the 55kg clash to become only the third Indian after Vinod Kumar (1980) and Pappu Yadav (1990) to win the U17 world title.
“What should I say? It was the happiest time of my life. I was on top of the world,” he said. “Just before the final, I was told that I could become the first Indian in three decades to win a gold medal in Greco at the world championships. Then Ronit lost a very tight fight, otherwise the record would have returned to him. I decided I had to win at all costs,” said the 16-year-old from the Rithal village of Rohtak.
A protege of coach Ranbir Singh Dhaka of Guri Meher Singh Akhara, Suraj started wrestling about four years ago. He started out as a freestyle wrestler, but a knee injury forced him to try Greco Roman. He made the switch two years ago.
“Suraj is a natural on the mat. His technique is still evolving, but his work rate is enormous. If he is looked after well, he also has the potential to do well at senior level,” Dhaka said.
Suraj is also not shy about dreaming. His goals, he nonchalantly states, are to “prove to the world that Indians can be as good at Greco as they are at freestyle.”
“I also want to win the senior world championships and Olympic gold. I know no Indian has done that yet, but that doesn’t scare me. I would like to pave the way,” he said. declared.
His wrestling style is as aggressive as his ambition. Suraj prefers to go on the offensive early and rack up points fast, with particular emphasis on not conceding passivity. At the Worlds, he chained a series of convincing victories, beating the Romanian Alexandru Vladut Varzari (9-0), the Japanese Kohaku Kanazawa (5-1) and the Uzbekistan Khurshidbek Normukhammadov (7-3) before a clear final.
“These world championships have been damn easy. I had fun winning it. I was never stretched,” Suraj said.
The win over Normukhammadov was particularly sweet, following a 9-0 loss to the same opponent last month. Then, Normukhammadov took advantage of Suraj’s propensity to launch an early side attack and countered it easily.
“The loss to Normukhammadov was humbling. I just had no answers. I was determined to get revenge,” he said.
The Indian had headed for a training camp in Bishkek which transformed his technique. “There has been a drastic change in my fight since this camp. I was raw and inexperienced and didn’t know much about techniques and grappling, but the fights with international wrestlers and the input from experienced coaches helped me a lot,” he said.
The camp also allowed Suraj to meet his idol, 77kg Greco wrestler Roman Andreyevich Vlasov. “I’ve been watching his videos for years and want to model my game on him. It was surreal to meet him,” Suraj said of the two-time Olympic champion (2012, 2016).
Another encounter he treasured was with Kyrgyzstan’s Tokyo silver medalist, Akzhol Makhmudov. “He gave me a simple piece of advice that improved my wrestling by leaps and bounds. He just told me to grab the opponent by the knuckles. Before, if I had to grab an opponent’s hand, I would hold them the arm. Makhmudov told me to grab the wrist or knuckles to keep them from squirming out of my control. I used that trick in the finals and won.
Coach Inderjeet Singh, who traveled with the team to Rome, agreed. “Like most Greco Indian wrestlers, Suraj had strength and stamina but was technically weak. This camp taught him a lot,” he said. see a long and fruitful career.”
Along with Suraj’s gold and Ronith’s silver, Manish (51kg) beat Turkey’s Ali Sumbul to claim bronze.