Singh in gut-wrenchingly splendid isolation

WRESTLING

If it is isolated at the top, it is scarcely very crowded a few rungs down either. Not if you are a British wrestler. In a national team that includes 12 horse grooms, four mountain bikers and any number of physiotherapists, Amarjit Singh stood alone yesterday.

He was the British wrestling team at the Georgia World Congress Centre. All 19 stone of him. But even with this mass of muscle that makes you wonder whether he ought to have a special licence to walk the pavements, a paltry squad of himself and a trainer was hardly an imposing one compared with the dozens of fighters and aides in American uniforms.

It rather summed up what the super-heavyweight has had to go through to get to Atlanta. Other wrestlers can train regularly with similar-sized men all year round. Singh, 25, from Wolverhampton, finds most of his toughest opponents in the gym, and they are the weights he pits his body against. Perhaps he should take up equine grooming: at least he would have someone to talk to.

It is a bleak scenario, hardly likely to develop a gold medallist, as Granit Taropin, who has coached the Russian and Indian wrestlers and is now in charge of Britain's, acknowledged: "He's our only international- class wrestler," he said. "Six months ago he was a low standard, but he practised in the Ukraine for six weeks in the build-up to the Games and improved a lot. Other wrestlers have been working for four years.

"If I had the thousand best coaches in the world, it would mean nothing without money, organisation and good competition. Amarjit needs eight good competitions a year. At the moment he's fighting once or twice. It's not enough."

Taropin lives in Glasgow and sees Singh once a month if he is lucky, yet if all this made you feel a mite sorry for the Briton, you had to say he looked the part yesterday. A heavy, drooping moustache gave him a menacing air that his tree-trunk arms did not dispel. Given a good draw, you felt, and he might have a chance. A look at the record of his first opponent, however, showed that fate had not been benign. Visually, Ebrahim Mehraban Roudbaneh probably came in second place to the Briton, but his CV includes two Asian championships. In Iran he is an idol, a national figure; Singh is barely a household name in his own street.

As soon as the fight started, the paper disparity was confirmed. The super-heavyweights do not indulge in many moves, and their repertoire is confined to the gut-wrench and the ankle cross. Singh, whose cousin Ravinder fought for Britain at the 1988 Games, spent most of his time straining to keep upright, never mind laying an attacking paw on the Iranian. One thing that wrestling has which football, regrettably, does not is a penalty for insufficient attacking, and faced by the massive strength of Mehraban, Singh was soon penalised for passivity. Indeed, by the end he was one caution away from being disqualified.

Which would merely have pre-empted the inevitable as Singh lost 6-2 and faced a succession of bouts against other losers to find his rank in the competition. "He's in the top six in the world," Singh muttered shyly afterwards. "I did OK."

His coach thought so, too. "I expected him to lose because the Iranian is very strong," he said. "You must realise that in Iran wrestling is the No 1 sport; it is a tradition out there. They have many, many fighters to choose from."

While Taropin was talking, Singh was left to contemplate defeat in the warm-up room. He was isolated again, this time with his thoughts.

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