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In September 2018, news emerged that the Wrestling Federation of India was set to enlist the services of three foreign coaches for the National team with a long-term view to preparing the team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It was a particularly momentous occasion because it was set to be the first time that the Federation would be roping in a coach from the Asian wrestling powerhouse country of Iran, and the United States of America. Among the three coaches scheduled to join back then was American international Andrew Cook.
However, due to some procedural oversights, the Sports Ministry had rejected their candidature back then and, very recently, after deliberations between the Wrestling Federation of India and the Ministry, the appointment was cleared and the wrestlers finally had a National coach.
Speaking on this delay to The Bridge, Cook was confident that this would not change the plans and strategies he has in place for the women’s team. “The fiscal year normally begins in March and when I was first expecting this work out, that’s when I thought I would be called. Then it became September and eventually, it all materialised now,” says Cook from the women’s National camp in Lucknow.
“On my end, it does not change my plans a whole lot. It certainly takes away my ability to have more time with the athletes but the plan we have in place will be the same as it was in September or October.”
Cook describes his stay in India so far “very enjoyable” despite the odd issues with his visa that needs sorting out. However, not all seemed to be good at the National Camp for women in Lucknow after reports emerged yesterday that the wrestling hall was still under construction and, as a consequence, training was reportedly delayed. But a way around that was found.
“We made accommodations here at the Taekwondo hall. There was a delay on mat training but we cross-trained instead so as not to waste time,” he said while also adding that he was “super-excited” with the team he was acquainted with.
So, what exactly stands out about the girls in the National camp as a unit? Describing the wrestlers as “unique”, the coach concedes that a deep relationship with wrestling for most of these girls is something that is visible and one he hopes to build on.
“The physical attributes of these athletes is what sets them apart. They’re all fit, strong and flexible and that is a wonderful base to work with. They have the whole physical package. Additionally, the kind of work ethic that they have displayed over the last few days is something that shows they are very willing to learn and evolve. And this is there is every single wrestler in the camp- right from the young to the senior and from the 50kg to the heavyweight ones,” Cook reveals.
“They also have a good, solid understanding on how to get a lead and hold a lead in a match. I just want to help them add to their offence and defence.”
“But there are definitely some rough edges to smoothen out,” he adds. “The biggest concern I personally feel is that they lack in self-confidence quite a lot. This is something we need to fix.”
“If we start setting some goals and ensure we achieve them in addition to some mental conditioning, that could be solved.”
“Technically speaking, the biggest weakness seems to be how easily they seem to give up leg-attacks. This is an area to clean up but, beyond that, the base seems solid,” he adds.
“The results over the last year have spoken for themselves. And hopefully, they will continue to even till Tokyo 2020,” he says.
Andrew Cook arrived in India during the leg of the Pro Wrestling League in the last week of January. Before he even began training, he had a fair view of the competitive side of most of his eventual wards and there was something that stuck out. “The senior leadership and the youngsters work and gel very well together. They’re always willing to pass on their wisdom to each other,” he says.
The coach’s first big test begins in the month of February itself. On the 28th of this month, the team will be heading to Bulgaria for a ranking series tournament for Freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s wrestling. In a way, this will be a good way for Andrew to understand the work cut out for him.
The higher a wrestler is placed at the end of the Series, the more points they get. This is the second of the four ranking series tourneys of the year.
With wrestling being a relatively strong avenue of Olympic medals for India in the recent past, what does the new coach hope to achieve with this team a year before Tokyo 2020? The burden of expectations will only increase as we inch closer to the multi-sport event given the performance of Indian wrestlers like Vinesh Phogat in the entirety of 2018.
“I think we have the capability to put all six girls on the podium come 2020,” he says. “The team should be considered a Top 3 team in the world by the time we go into 2020. We should be the team to beat- we can pass the USA, Japan, China and all these teams that are slightly better.”
“We’re going to be just fine,” Cook concludes.