Sandeep Singh was 14 years old when his coach gave him a target to win gold at the Olympics. The year was 2012, and his life since has been all about working towards that target, even if it meant missing his sister’s wedding or not going home during festivals.
Singh, 21, is yet to make a name for himself at the international stage but he made a big splash on Saturday by winning gold in the ultra-competitive 74kg category at the freestyle Wrestling National Championships at the Noida Stadium here.
The competitors included 2015 World Championships bronze medallist Narsingh Yadav, two-time Asian Championship medallist Parveen Rana, 2020 Asian Championship silver medallist Jitender Kumar, along with defending champion Gaurav Baliyan, who was among the youngest ever wrestlers to win a title at the nationals last year and went on to win silver in the 79kg category at the Asian Championship.
Singh beat Amit Dhankar, who had won an Asian Championship silver in the 74kg category in 2019, in semi-finals on Saturday, before a thrilling 3-2 win over Jitender that fetched him gold.
When asked if he had the title in mind when he came to the Noida Stadium on Saturday morning, Singh simply said: “My aim is to win gold at the Olympics. So, I came here intending to win the gold medal.”
Singh comes from Mansa district in Punjab, about 180km west of Chandigarh. “There were no akhadas in our district so I went to Khanna in Ludhiana district, which is about 150 kilometres away from Mansa. I stayed there and learnt to wrestle. I never worried about the fact that it is far from home, I just wanted to win a an Olympic gold,” he said.
Family takes a backseat for Singh but he says that his folks are fine with that.
“From here, I am going to the akhara and resume my training. I go home when there is some work to do. I did not even go to my sister’s wedding as I had a tournament at the time. I was fighting in the state championship in the under-17 level at the time. My parents were fine with it, they told me to do whatever I feel is right. Who knows, if I had gone for that wedding, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Singh.
“They know my dream is to win an Olympic gold and it is because of them that I have this dream. My uncle used to keep talking about the Olympics and so I know about it from a very young age,” he said.
It also meant not accompanying his father at the Singhu border during the farmers’ protest. “My father went there and he was there for a long time. He is home now and he would be very happy about this medal. I didn’t go there, I focussed on my training,” he said.
Singh has taken one step towards his ultimate target. A nationals gold often translates into entry into the national camp and a possible entry into the Indian team for the Rome Ranking Series that is scheduled to be held from March 4 to 7.