Name: Babita Kumari
Discipline (sport): Wrestling
Category:53 kg women's freestyle wrestling
Qualification: Babita qualified for Rio after striking gold at the Asian Olympic Qualifier event in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Strengths: The athlete has shown her mettle in the Commonwealth games, if she shows the same level of performance in the Olympics, she can go beyond the first eight of the event.
Olympic performance: Debut.
Past record (best performances): Babita won the gold medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
She also won a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
She won the bronze medal at the 2012 World Wrestling Championships and the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championships.
While the road to Rio is one of uncertainties for all athletes, for Babita it was a particularly rocky road. Her Olympic dreams were threatened by a temporary suspension imposed on her by United World Wrestling (UWW).
The grappler hadn’t followed proper procedure while officially withdrawing from the 1st World Qualification tournament in Mongolia. According to the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), she forfeited her bout in the Asian Olympic qualifier event in order to, “conserve energy for the last qualifying event.” While it seemed like the disciplinary committee at WFI wouldn’t pay heed to her Olympic chances, she was finally pardoned and left off with a warning by the committee. She was forgiven as she was a 'first time offender'.
Even her qualifying before the whole forfeiting fiasco was steeped in controversy. Babita qualified for Rio after Mongolian wrestler Sumiya Erdenechimeg failed a dope test in the Asian qualifiers, where she had beaten Babita in the semi-finals. The drug that lead to Sumiya’s ban, meldonium, was the same drug that Sharapova was suspended for. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) went on to reinstate Sumiya after a rule change, clearing her passage to the Olympics.
This threatened Babita’s spot at Rio. There was immense social media outrage over the possibility that the spot that Babita earned could be taken away due to this rule confusion. But the UWW finally confirmed on 9 July that all countries previously granted Olympic spots will not be impacted by the latest adjustment, according to a report by The Indian Express.
But Babita hasn’t just faced adversities inside the wrestling world; she had to deal with setbacks in the non-sporting world too. Babita’s journey into wrestling began, when her father, a wrestler himself, dreamt of his daughters pursuing the competitive sport as well. But the conservative Bhiwani district in Haryana back in those days felt that it was a taboo for girls to wrestle. Mahavir Singh was ridiculed and ostracized for his efforts, but he shut down all his critics once the sisters started winning international tournaments. It’s no surprise that director Nitesh Tiwari and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan have decided to bring this inspiring story to the big screen with their new movie Dangal.
The grappler has now learnt from all her obstacles and is ready for Rio. She has had consistently strong performances in the Commonwealth games of the past, and hopes to translate those strengths to Rio. She has been following the footsteps of her elder sister Geeta Phogat, who also happens to have won India's first ever gold medal in women's wrestling.
Her cousin Vinesh Phogat will also be gunning for a medal this year in the 48kg women’s freestyle wrestling tournament. Not just her own family, even the wrestling fraternity in India has been doing well this Olympic season. This is the first time that India will be represented in all three formats - men's freestyle, female wrestling and Greco-Roman - at the Olympics. Will Babita’s hard work pay off and help bring the spotlight on the wrestling community in India? One thing is for sure, if she attains victory, it will be well deserved.
With inputs from agencies