From Pentathlon to Grappling: Raghav Jamwal conquers uncharted territories
He once almost qualified for the Olympics in a sport which has seen no Indian representation. Now, he is a national champion in another - Raghav Jamwal's story is an inspiration to take up sports that are not talked about.
Raghav Jamwal's phone has not stopped ringing since the Himachal Pradesh CM congratulated him on Twitter for winning two medals at the recent Asian Grappling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Holding the trophy aloft as the captain of the Indian team for securing the third position in Gi grappling is the most cherished moment of his life. He has often travelled abroad for tournaments, but the reception at home this time was unprecedented.
He has always been explaining the tits-bits about the strange choices of sports he has picked over the years - from Pentathlon to Muay Thai to Jiu-Jitsu to Grappling - to friends, relatives and classmates; but he never thought he would get such a reception from them one day.
Raghav Jamwal's story is an inspiration for youngsters to take up sports that are not usually talked about in India.
"Grappling is a sister sport of wrestling. The parent body for both the sports is the same, United World Wrestling (UWW). In a wrestling match we take our opponent and pin him down whereas in a grappling match we can take them down, choke them, set arm bars and make them tap out," Raghav explained to The Bridge.
"My friends and family thought I was crazy to switch to grappling and start from scratch. I am an MBA student at IIM Rohtak, work a part-time job and am the national captain, so there are lots of challenges - like managing my time," he said.
"I am actively seeking sponsorships but I am blessed to have a supportive family. Combat sports are hard on the body, good diet and recovery is a must. To be the best in the world I have to compete as much as I can at the international level. Travel and camps are expensive, but I know if I hang in long enough I'll crack the code," he added.
Olympics heartbreak in Modern Pentathlon
Before the shift to grappling, Raghav dealt with the heartbreak of narrowly missing out on Olympics qualification in 2016, in arguably the most difficult sport to pursue in India: Modern Pentathlon - a combination of Fencing, Swimming, Equestrian, Shooting and Running.
"I started out with Fencing, I played my first nationals at class 11 for Air Force Bal Bharti School. I was attracted to the Pentathlon. I thought I was made for the sport, as it gave me a chance to play five different sports," he said.
Raghav became India's top athlete in Modern Pentathlon, the rarest of rare sports in which no Indian has ever qualified for the Olympics. At his best, he was ranked 29 in Asia.
During his time at Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, he came close to achieving that elusive Olympic dream when he competed in the 2015 Asian Championships in Beijing, China, which acted as the qualifiers for the Rio 2016 Olympics. However, this is where his journey ended in that sport.
"Modern Pentathlon was a good experience but the state of the Indian federation is heartbreaking. We still have no organised structure, not a single stadium in the country which has all the facilities under one roof, no regular tournaments. I used to train for one event for four hours, then travel for five hours to get to the next facility," Raghav said.
"As a player I was spending a lot. Shooting, horse riding and fencing are expensive sports, and there were no returns whatsoever. There was no support from the Centre or from the incompetent national federation. I realised I can’t waste any more of my energy, emotions and money and had to channelise it into some other sport. It was time to let go..."
The Modern Pentathlon movement started very late in India. The national federation was formed as recently as in 2009. As the federation has no international success to show yet, getting government funding through the sports ministry remains difficult.
Grappling provides Raghav the right platform
Grappling was not a sport remotely related to any of the five sports he trained in earlier, but as luck would have it, Raghav Jamwal has grown so good at his new craft that he has been crowned national champion three consecutive times.
He trains at the Crosstrain Fight Club in Delhi under the able guidance of Siddharth Singh, the first Indian Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, who is part of the Indian Jiu-Jitsu squad for the upcoming Asian Games. Siddharth Singh had himself been India’s highest ranked competitive grappler once.
Though UWW manages both wrestling and grappling at the global level, there is a separate federation called the Grappling Federation of India (GFI) in India. The GFI has often been at loggerheads with the Wrestling Federation of India.
"It is because of the consistent effort of the grappling community that we now have more participation than wrestling in all our national championships. We suffered a lot because of the wrongdoings by our sister federation, but we have come a long way and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon," Raghav said.
The GFI is organizing tournaments regularly and providing technical support to players, something Raghav sorely missed in pentathlon.
International referee and coach Sanjay Pawar has been trying to implement learnings from international events to make India a force to reckon with in Grappling. Raghav is happy that the sport has given him a platform to showcase his skills.
Raghav is not losing sleep over grappling not being an Olympic sport.
"I am hopeful it will soon be included in the Olympics, but it is already a part of World Combat Games, Police Games and will soon feature in the Asian Games. I wish to win medals and improve as a grappler every year so that when it gets to the main stage we are ready to take over," he said.
For now, Raghav has his eyes set on the World Grappling Championships in Warsaw, Poland in August, the biggest tournament of his life yet.