Bareilly: Dark clouds and drizzle mark this August morning at the Jat Regiment Headquarters in Bareilly as officers initiate the wreath-laying ceremony at the regiment’s memorial. Within the compound a few hundred metres away, young wrestlers ready themselves to spar with one another — the Regiment is also a pivotal fulcrum in the Indian Army’s sporting ethos.
With gun salutes and ceremonial march of Regiment Commandant Brigadier Adarsh Butail, the memorial is bestowed with wreaths. Though the morning begins on a solemn note, spirits are running high among officers in the run-up to India’s 75th year of Independence. Fittingly, as the ceremony winds down, the clouds begin to part for clearer skies.
India’s postcolonial military history is intertwined with the valour and service of the Jat Regiment—be it the Battle of Dograi during the 1965 War or the 1971 war. But the Regiment has brought laurels off the battlefield too — from some of the world’s toughest sporting arenas.
But before the medals comes the sweat and a grueling training regime that produces world class athletes.
The Jat Regiment nurtures champion athletes, especially wrestlers, deploying a two-level intake process.
“Young boys between the age of 8-14 who show potential in sport, specifically wrestling, are inducted into the Regiment’s Boys Sports Company (BSC). They are consequently trained, taught, and educated at the Regiment,” Subedar Major Poornveer Singh of the Jat Regiment tells ThePrint.
“Many have become champions through the BSC, and once they are of eligible age, they are inducted into the Army,” adds Singh.
“Apart from the BSC, the regiment focuses on mentoring wrestlers already inducted into the Army who have the potential to become champions. Since 2013, we have been operating as the green node for the Army’s wrestling setup. Essentially, wrestlers are sent here to train, level up, and gain skills. Once they start winning medals, they are transferred to the Army Sports Institute (ASI), the red node (for senior athletes) in Pune,” says Subedar Ajit Kumar, head coach at the green wrestling node.
The regiment’s champion athletes include Olympian wrestler Subedar Mukhtiar Singh, a two-time Commonwealth gold medalist (1966 and 1970), Subedar Bhim Singh, high-jump gold medalist in the 1966 Asian Games, and more recently Subedar Sandeep Kumar, a bronze winner in the 10-km race walk at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. There is also Havaldar Ravinder Khatri who qualified for the 86 kg Greco-Roman wrestling in the Rio Olympics.
The regiment has also produced many junior and national champions, like Ankit, an 18-year-old gold medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling. Through time, the regiment has trained, motivated, and pushed these athletes in varying capacities.
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Boys Sports Company to international champions
A few hundred metres from the ceremonial lawn lies the main exercise centre, which has two buildings. The first one houses the Mukthiar Singh Wrestling Arena. The facility fitted with sparring mats, climbing ropes, spectator areas, and high windows through which sunlight falls.
The other building, adjacent to the wrestling arena, has a narrow entrance, fitted with an aluminum glazed double door, and gives the resemblance of a barrack turned into a gym. Though endowed with all the cables and machines modern athletes require.
At the wrestling arena, two young wrestlers spar in the background, moving from one grapple to another. Subedar Jasbir, head coach of the BSC, says “We train about thirty young boys.”
After scouting talent, the pool of young boys undergoes physical and character tests; based on these, we induct them into the BSC, explains Naib Subedar Rakesh Kumar, one of the coaches at BSC.
The primary goal of the BSC is to develop champion wrestlers for the Army and eventually, the country. Those who start performing and winning medals early are inducted into the Army; some are even transferred to the ASI to develop their talent and make them compete at the international level.
A young BSC’s day starts early. At 05:30 am, they report for practice. Morning session goes on till 8 am. This is followed by academic classes that go on till 1 pm. The boys are back for practice at 5 pm, which goes on till 7 pm, Kartik, a young member of the BSC from Baghpat in Western Uttar Pradesh, explains.
Education is central to the programme of the BSCs. Complete attention is paid to ensure that the boys get education equivalent to the school curriculum at the Regiment compound. A math class ensued at the school for the BSCs while ThePrint visited the regiment.
“Training for the boys is according to age and strength. When the boys are young, we focus on wrestling technique, mat tactics, flexibility, and endurance. They are also made to play other sports to develop their game sense,” explains head coach Jasbir Singh.
At times, the BSCs are also made to compete with older wrestlers who are part of the green node. Sparring with fitter and stronger wrestlers helps them develop their skills, says Subedar Paramjit, another wrestling coach at the regiment. Once the boys grow old, usually above 14, they start to focus on weight training and enhance the intensity of their wrestling coaching.
The carefully tailored programme for the BSCs is bringing results across the spectrum of competitions at both the national and international levels. Lalit Kumar recently won bronze at the Under-17 Wrestling World Championship in the 48 kg freestyle category.
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Nurturing green node wrestlers
Apart from developing talent through the BSC, the Jat Regiment is also the green node for the Army’s wrestling.
Back at the gym, wrestling coach Naib Subedar Deva Ram, originally from The Grenadiers, says, “There are nearly 40 athletes training with us here at the Green Node. Our objective is to train them for Army championships, services championships, and nationals.”
The average age of wrestlers who train at the green node varies between 18-30. “Those who come first at the Army Championship, go to ASI Pune. Those who stand second, come here. Consider this a feeder academy to the red node,” adds Deva Ram.
Among the wrestlers of the green node is Naib Subedar Basant, standing at well over 6 feet 5 inches, who competes in the 130 kg freestyle. Basant, who has competed and won medals in national and inter-Services competitions says, “Apart from coaching and training us, the Army takes care of all needs during injuries and rehabilitation.”
Essentially, the green node aims to enhance and build the pool of wrestlers for the Army to compete at international events, including the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and the Olympics.
Naib Subedar Laxman Pawar, from 5 Maratha, a coach at the green node, says, “Training involves intensive strength, speed, and endurance development. We also focus on developing the wrestlers’ motor abilities and technique work on the mat.”
A consensus among the coaches from the green node is that a major change due to the training, up-skilling, and preparations at the Jat centre, is that now wrestlers have developed an attitude where they only compete to win medals, irrespective of the scale of the competition, international or domestic. Nobody is competing for only “experience”.
“Essentially, we hope to level up all wrestlers in the green node to the red in Pune within a year or two of training here,” says Ajit Kumar, head coach of the node.
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Future plans for the centre
A few feet from the ceremonial lawn is the Regiment Centre’s Subedar Major Pooranveer Singh’s office, perched behind an intricately sculpted wooden desk. Commenting on the glorious history of the Regiment, Singh says: “The Jat Regiment has always nurtured national and international athletes. We will continue to do so and develop and build the BSC programme and the green node for wrestling.”
Deepak Punia, gold medalist in 86kg freestyle at the just concluded Commonwealth Games also trained briefly at the Jat Regiment. Subedar Sandeep, was also here before shifting to ASI Pune, reflecting the indelible links of the regiment to the armies sporting accomplishments.
The Jat regiment will soon be the green node for Kabbadi.
“Our ambition is to build good athletes and players who can bring accolades to the country. Our identity is intricately linked to sports,” adds Pooranveer Singh.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)