A bitter court battle, followed by an embarrassing dope scandal, before some redemption through an Olympic medal — Indian wrestling in 2016 mirrored the script of a Bollywood potboiler in which Sakshi Malik emerged as the new star on the horizon.
For most part of the year, wrestling hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, making it a tumultuous Olympic build-up after two-time medallist Sushil Kumar found himself ousted from contention just a couple of months before the Games in Rio.
The chain of events that set in ended up disgracing the sport before Sakshi emerged an unlikely saviour in the Brazillian city.
Sakshi not only scripted history by becoming the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal, she also became the first to win a medal for the country at the Rio Games before shuttler P V Sindhu capped it off with a silver.
Fighting back from 0-5 down to beat Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan 8-5 in the dying minutes of the bronze medal play-off match in women’s 58kg freestyle, Sakshi ended India’s painful wait at the 2016 Rio Olympics for a medal and immediately sent the nation of 1.2 billion into euphoria.
In fact, the 24-year-old’s feat also covered up for the under-achievement of Indian wrestlers at the mega-event with just one medal coming from a strong eight-member team that boasted of three women for the first time.
Even London Games bronze-medallist Yogeshwar Dutt failed to live up to the expectations, bowing out in the qualifying round to end his Olympic campaign on a disappointing note.
Though Sakshi’s heroics provided solace, it was not enough to eclipse the shock and embarrassment that India had to endure with Narsingh’s ouster from the Olympics.
Narsingh was eventually handed a four-year ban for flunking a dope test after the ad-hoc division of the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) overturned the clean chit given to him by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA).
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had appealed against NADA’s all-clear to Narsingh at CAS, three days ahead of his scheduled opening bout at the Olympics.
The 27-year-old’s name had appeared in the official Olympic schedule after he underwent the mandatory weigh-in but the CAS verdict dashed all his hopes.
In fact, the run-up to the Olympics was nowhere close to being ideal for either Narsingh or the Indian team with more than one controversy affecting their focus.
Personally for Narsingh, there was no dearth of trouble ahead of the Games.
What started as a minor tussle for an Olympic berth in men’s 74kg freestyle, snowballed into an ugly slanging match that ended in a legal battle: though he won in the court, the ordeal was far from over as Narsingh landed in a bigger mess with his blood sample returning positive for a banned substance.
In September 2015, Narsingh had bagged an Olympic berth for India at the World Championships in Las Vegas with a bronze medal.