Wrestling is arguably the lowest-profile Olympic sport in Britain, but Adil Iftakhar is hoping to put it in the spotlight at the 2016 Games in Rio.
The 21-year-old became a Team GB competitor in 2011, narrowly missing out on the London Games in 2012 due to his inexperience.
In order to compete in Olympic wrestling you must be the best in your weight category in your national team, which he wasn’t at the time. However,he now feels he has got what it takes to make it to Brazil.
“I’m definitely looking at it, you’ve got to dream and make it a reality,” he said. “There’s certain events that I have to participate in. I’ve got to go to these tournaments, get a good placing – if possible a medal – and then from there the doors open for Rio,” he said.
On the GB wrestling team there are seven weigh-class categories with three people in each. Iftakhar will battle against the other two in his category to reach Rio next summer.
“The two people in my category tend to be my main competitors,” he said. “I have to be better than them. Only one out of the three of us can get to Rio, but I still need to qualify by excelling in the tournaments as well.”
Iftakhar, who competes at 86kg, trains three days a week but just once a month with the rest of the GB Academy in Salford.
He stressed just how important training and dedication are, allied with confidence and self-belief, to achieving success in the sport.
“The training that makes you is club level,” he said. “I train in Slough once a week, and on top of that I train in London twice a week,” he said.
“I do my own conditioning separately with weight sessions on top. I’ve also now started to do altitude training with masks, and this has improved my performance greatly.”
Having recently turned 21, Iftakhar is now a senior and admits there are no more excuses if he doesn’t qualify.
“I’m a senior now and can’t say ‘Oh I wasn’t old enough,’ because now I am. I’m confident that I can be [good enough], 100 percent.
“You’ve got to be confident – it’s an individual sport, one versus one. You’ve got to be confident in your skills and ability because if you’re not you’ve lost half the battle. Wrestling is very mentally-oriented.”
Iftakhar is currently studying law at City University in London. Finding the right balance between training and study is tough but something he says he deals with.
It is very difficult with the work and training,” he admitted. “My frame of mind changes when I’m working, I’m calm and very relaxed, but when I’m training it’I become stressed out because I am so determined.
“The sessions are intense and repetitive, and if I don’t get it done I feel as if I’ve let myself down.
Right now I’m putting more effort into my work as wrestling won’t support me for the rest of my life compared to a sport like football,” he said.
“I still get in enough wrestling sessions and I would like to do way more, but it’s not realistic for the long term.”
The last GB Olympic wrestling medal winner was Noel Loban in 1984 at the Los Angeles Games. Iftakhar believes from what he has seen it will be very difficult for his country to end the 32-year drought in Rio.
“People need to understand that it is a minority sport in this country,” he said. “It hasn’t got a lot of funding and it is not supported well by the government, and therefore our chances are slim.
“If anyone does win it will be down to individual effort. If I’d gone and trained in Russia for a year that would have been done with my own resources and money.”
Iftakhar holds an outstanding record, winning 90% of his 50 tournament-based matches so far. He would like nothing more than to win a medal in Rio but knows it’s a challenge.
“My aim is to win one, obviously. I’d aim for the highest one but that’s not to say I wouldn’t be happy with a bronze,” he admitted.
“For a sport that is probably one of the most difficult in this country, and is not supported as much as others, it would be a great achievement.”