What came to your mind after winning the medal?
From now on, no one will say that Greco-Roman wrestlers don’t exist in India. We have been ridiculed many times. The lines, ‘Greco wrestlers can’t win medals. It’s only a showcase event’, hopefully, will not be heard and the mindset towards us will change for good from now on.
Were you confident of doing well at the World Championships in Budapest?
My coaches always supported me. They kept egging me on. They told me you have the potential and you will get the results sooner or later. What actually helped me was that we went there about 15 days before the event. That gave me a chance to spar with the top wrestlers of other countries in my 66 kg category. I realised that it’s only a matter of one good day and I can win a medal. My confidence levels were high before the bout.
Tell us about your bronze medal bout against the Serbian wrestler?
The bout against Aleksandar Maksimovic was the toughest, as I had injured my hand during the quarters. But I was determined to give my best, knowing well that this was my best chance to win a medal.
Were you tense before repechage?
No. In fact, I was confident of doing well against my Swedish opponent (Sharur Vardanyan) — for the simple reason that I had practised with him during our camp in Colarado (US), prior to the London Olympics, in 2012. In fact, I was sparring regularly with Spain’s Ismael Sanchez and the Swedish wrestler there and realised that I can beat them in the competitions. That gave me tremendous confidence as I began my campaign in repechage.
(Sandeep got better of Sharur Vardanyan of Sweden 6-4 in a thrilling repechage encounter to earn a shot at a bronze. Earlier, he also blanked Ismael Sanchez of Spain 5-0 in the second round).
Initially, you were not selected for the national camp but it was chief coach Hargobind Singh’s special recommendation that helped your cause...
I was really dejected after missing a medal at the nationals. I even thought of quitting wrestling because Greco-Roman, I thought, has no future in our country. But our chief coach made a special recommendation for my selection into the national camp. He always tells me that I have that extra power, which is required to win a medal at the big stage. I owe this to my coaches, who have motivated me to carry on and never lost faith in my abilities.
Your coach (Jagmal Singh) also persuaded you to carry on?
It was a difficult time as I had lost heart and faith in my abilities.
But my coach at the Mumbai SAI centre in Kandivli persuaded me to not give up till I win a medal. I went back to the national camp with even more determination. The way I practised at the camp prior to World Championship, I was sure that one of the wrestlers from our team will certainly win a medal. Fortunately, it was me.
Can we say that your medal can be a game-changer in our country for Greco-Roman style?
Sushil Kumar’s feat at the Beijing Games certainly increased the popularity of free-style wrestling in India. I hope that the first medal in Greco-Roman will also help popularise this style of wrestling.
It’s about changing the psychology — from just participating to winning medals at the big stage. Most of the talent in India gets attracted to freestyle. But Greco requires upper body strength and flexibility and is more popular worldwide.
Any special person who has inspired you during your journey so far?
Free-style wrestler Narsingh Yadav has been my roommate during different camps. He is not just a good friend but has been an inspiration to me in last few years.
Full name: Sandeep Tulsi Yadav
Age: 25; hails from Jaunpur, UP
Style: Greco-Roman, 66kg
Becomes India’s first ever medal-winner at World Championships in Greco-Roman category
Prior to his achievement, India’s best finish in the “classical” style of wrestling was fifth place -- by Mukesh Khatri at 2001 World Championship in 54kg section.