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Home Forgotten Heroes Kartar Singh-Remembering India's only two-time Asiad gold medallist wrestler

Kartar Singh-Remembering India’s only two-time Asiad gold medallist wrestler

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Indian wrestling, over decades, have witnessed illustrious names who have graced the sport. And one name that cannot miss ‘mention’ for his exploits on the mat is heavyweight grappler Kartar Singh, who enjoyed a highly decorated international wrestling career. Kartar has the rare distinction of being the only Indian men’s wrestler to win two gold medals (in freestyle wrestling) at the Asian Games (1978 and 1986). 

Born in Sur Singh village in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, Kartar was encouraged to take up wrestling by his cousin brother Joginder Singh at an akhara in his village and he seriously pursued it from the eight standard. At the age of 14, he has already emerged as the district champion. The talented youngster steadily rose through the ranks and made his Senior Nationals debut at Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1973 in the 58-kg category and subsequently became an invincible figure in the domestic circuit, winning the senior national crown as many as 14 times.

Winning the senior nationals turned into a habit for me during the period between 1973 and 1986. I won the Senior Nationals in different categories – 58-kg, 73-kg, 74kg, 90-kg and 100-kg,” the soft spoken, who is nothing short of a wrestling legend recalls with a tinge of pride.

Kartar Singh’ biggest international performance leap came about at the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games, where he had lapped up the 90-kg gold

Asian Games success

Kartar’s biggest international performance leap came about at the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games, where he had lapped up the 90-kg gold. His participation in the Bangkok Asiad was however preceded by eventful selection trials. Reminiscing what went down, the former wrestling star revealed,

The 1978 Commonwealth Games was held in Canada, and I had won a bronze in the 90-kg category over there. Subsequently, the trials were held for the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games and during those days there was Vijay Kumar – a formidable heavyweight wrestler. Vijay was a very good wrestler and was adamant about taking the 90-kg trials for the 1978 Asiad and I suggested he should give trials in 100-kg as I had got a bronze in 90-kg at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. Vijay had earlier lost to me in trials and wanted to exact revenge for that and so insisted on fighting the 90-kg trials for the 1978 Asiad. I went on to beat him 4-0 in the trials at Patiala and represented the country in 90-kg at the Asiad and the rest is history. Vijay later fought the 100-kg trials and made the 1978 Asiad cut.

Kartar outwrestled Mongolia’s Chimidiin Gochoosüren to win the 90-kg gold at the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games – an event where another Indian grappler Rajinder Singh also picked up a gold medal in the 74-kg category. “I dominated the final bout against Chimidiin from the outset and opened up a 5-0 lead in the first round and subsequently won the next two rounds easily (in those there used to be three rounds of three minutes each),” he reminisces.

The ‘Bangkok euphoria’ gave way to dejection four years later when he nearly missed out on a gold medal in front of his home crowd losing to Iran’s Mohammad Hassan Mohebbi at the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games. “Mohebbi was a tough opponent even though the home crowd was rooting for me. I remember winning four points in the first minute of the first round but subsequently found the going tough and lost to him comprehensively. The bout was watched by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and it was so disappointing to let her and the home crowd down,” quips Kartar as he struggles to hide his emotion.

 Kartar Singh called time on his international wrestling career after featuring in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Kartar Singh called time on his international wrestling career after featuring in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

India-Pakistan encounters are always looked forward to, be it any sport, and Kartar’s 1986 Seoul Asian Games 100-kg final against Pakistan’s Shahid Pervaiz Butt triggered similar levels of excitement. Not many know that Kartar sustained a muscle pull in his tough semifinal win over Iran’s Kazem Gholami.

“I still remember the entire Pakistan wrestling contingent was training in South Korea for six months in the run up to the Asiad and they appeared well prepared. It was a fast-paced bout, where Shahid had shown passivity in the initial phase before I towered over him and won 2-1. My second bout was against the eventual silver medallist Joseph Atiyeh of Syria which I lost and then I also lost to Romania’s Vasile Puşcaşu who went on to win the bronze at the 1984 Olympics.

Life after retirement

Kartar, who had featured in three Olympics – 1980, 1984 and 1988 called time on his international wrestling career after featuring in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He was very much an active wrestler even after quitting international wrestling – Kartar kept visiting the mat regularly and went on to win the World Masters crown a whopping 21 times. “I have been wrestling even after I stopped representing my country in the senior team. I kept myself busy with veterans wrestling from 1992 to 2015,” reveals Kartar who retired as IGP at Punjab Police in 2013.

Wrestling is something that keeps the 66-year-old former legend me occupied following his retirement from Punjab Police. “I keep myself engaged with promoting wrestling in schools and colleges. I’m the President of Punjab Wrestling Association since 1993,” concludes Kartar, who was also a former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) secretary general.

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