India ended their Tokyo Olympics campaign with seven medals, two of which were won in wrestling. India has bagged six medals in wrestling in the last four Olympics. It is fair to say wrestling has been Indian most successful sport.
Wrestling, which is understood to be one of the oldest sports in the world, relies a lot on the student-coach relationship. The role of a guru is cardinal to a wrestler's life and career. And when a wrestler shines at the grandest stage of all, the coaches deserve equal praise and appreciation. Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Bajrang Punia, the two newest addition to India's Olympic medallists in wrestling, were under the tutelage of Satpal Singh and Emzarios Shako Bendinitis.
Guru Satpal: Indian Wrestling
Satpal Singh, a name synonymous with Indian wrestling, has produced some of India's most incredible wrestling talents in recent times. Sushil Kumar, the only Indian to win two Olympic medals in wrestling, is one of the prized students of Satpal Singh. However, long before he became an excellent coach, he was an equally good wrestler himself.
Belonging to the generation when wrestling was not covered enough by Indian media, Mahabali Satpal had won a silver medal each in three Commonwealth Games – 1974, 1978 and 1982. He had also won a bronze medal in the 1974 Asian Games and finally a gold in the 1982 Asian Games when his career peaked.
Started in 1988, he runs an Akhada along with fellow coach Virender Singh at the Chhatrasal Stadium and trains some of the best wrestlers in the country. The Akhada has produced wrestlers like Sushil Kumar, Amit Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, among others. He now works as Assistant Director of Education, Delhi and holds the position of Chief Patron of School Games Federation of India. An Arjuna (1974) and Padma Shri (1983) awardee, Guru Satpal, was conferred with Dronacharya Award in 2009. He also received Padma Bhusan from the government of India in 2015. The most revered man in Indian wrestling is responsible for the two silver medals and one bronze medal won by Sushil Kumar and Ravi Dahiya.
Emzarios Shako Bendinitis
Emzarios Shako Bendinitis, from Georgia, coaches wrestler Bajrang Punia, who clinched the bronze medal in 65kg freestyle wrestling for India at the Tokyo Games. As a wrestler, Bendinitis had represented two countries in the Olympics – Georiga in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Greece in 2004 Athens Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics. But Bendinitis's career had peaked when he won the gold medal at the 2000 European Wrestling Championship. The previous year he had clinched the bronze at the European Championship.
A Constant Support Beside Punia
27-year-old Punia has been training under Bentinidis since 2018. Since then, Punia has won a silver medal and a bronze medal at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships. Bajrang Punia's gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games, 2018 Commonwealth Games also came while he was under the tutelage of the Georgian. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the former European Champion assisted Punia through video calls, e-mails, and phone calls since he was stationed in Georgia. Bendinitis, who shares a father-son like bond with Punia, helped the Haryanvi wrestler bring home India's second wrestling medal at the Tokyo Games 2020.