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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK

Wrestlers welcomed back

By Dewi Hughes
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

After being dropped for only the second time in the Games' history four years ago, the ancient sport of wrestling returned to the Commonwealth party on Friday.

The opening day of competition saw 39 wrestlers do battle in four weight categories in the elimination rounds at the G-Mex centre.

Namibia's Nico Jacobs had the honour of claiming the first victory on the mat in his 84kg contest against Andreas Pieri of Cyprus.

"I hope India will get three or four gold medals"
India head coach Piararam Sondhi

Wrestling, of course, is certainly not the most graceful of sports at the Games.

But the points come thick and fast as the competitors are encouraged by the referees to provide non-stop action during the six minute tussle.

India is traditionally one of the world's strongest wrestling nations and head coach Piararam Sondhi predicts a fruitful few days for his team in each of the seven weight divisions ranging from 55 to 120kgs.

"We have brought a very good team with us and we hope our boys will do well," said Sondhi

"I hope India will get three or four gold medals in total and maybe a few silver and bronze as well."

Appropriately enough for these Games, only the freestyle form of the sport is being deployed.

That format is also known as the Lancashire or Catch-as-catch-can style since it owes its origins to the miners of the county who created the contest for both competition and relaxation.

England's first wrestler on the mat was Jatinder Singh.

The 19-year-old 2000 English junior champion had little difficulty in securing a 9-2 success over Abraham Vassallo, an Eric Cantona look-alike from Malta.

Singh cruised through the day's encounters in the 84kg class to move into the semi-finals.

But there was disappointment for Singh's team-mate Andy Hutchinson, who lost to Mikheil Japaridze in the 55kg class.

Hutchinson, silver medallist in 1994, lost 3-0 to the three-time Canadian champion.

And the home nation's best hope for gold, Amerjit Singh, also lost in the heaviest division of 120kg.

Singh won bronze when the sport last appeared at the Victoria Games in 1994 but lost 4-1 to Eric Kirschner.

That misery was compounded when John Melling, another 1994 medallist, failed to register a single point on his exit from the 66kg class.

All the medal bouts will take place on Saturday and Sunday.

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