Muhammad INAM (PAK) and members of his team stand next to their makeshift sandpit.
"It's like the side are flipped. Earlier, I used to practice for mat competitions for one month prior to competition," he said. "The Georgia, Iran and Russia wrestlers would be practicing on mat throughout the year. But now, I am practicing beach wrestling for 12 months while the mat wrestlers are practicing only a one month before the competition."
With that confidence, he wanted to win the gold medal at the World Ranking Series Final in Zagreb, Croatia this year but an unexpected problem denied him the opportunity.
"I could not get a visa to Croatia because Pakistan does not have that an embassy there," he said. "I have been dealing with such troubles for a long time."
Despite being held out of the last event for the Beach Wrestling World Series, Inam still had his sties placed on winning gold at the World Beach Games as he was the only Pakistani athlete to qualify for the Games and therefore felt more pressure to win.
Inam was drawn in a tough Group B that also had 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist Dato Marsagishvili (GEO), among wrestlers from Azerbaijan, Turkey and Portugal. He began the day with a quick win over Kanan ALIYEV (AZE).
Next up was Murat Ozkan of Turkey. Inam was tested more than his first bout the results was not different. A 1-0 win was enough to keep him on track to reach the knockout stages. But before that, Inam had a tough one to crack in the group itself.
Dato Marsagishvili (GEO), the winner of 2019 Beach Wrestling World Series Final and the only wrestler to beat Inam on beach in last two years, was up next.
Perhaps Inam was waiting for it. The bout saw a lot of action however no wrestler was able to break the deadlock for the first two minutes. It was only in the final minute that Marsagishvili was awarded a point as Inam was warned for an eye poke. Inam did not agree with the decision but had no option but to continue. In the dying seconds of the bout, Inam scored a go-behind to win the 1-1 and avenge his earlier loss.
Inam comfortably topped the group after beating Adao ANDRADE (POR) 3-0 and reached the semi-finals. Marsagishvili also made it to the last-four as a result of his second-place in the group.
As fate would have it, both wrestler won the semi-finals. Inam defeated Pedro GARCIA (ESP) 3-0 while Marsagishvili got the better of Mihai PALAGHIA (ROU) 4-0. The two were now set for a third bout inside five months. Marsagishvili had taken the first win 2-0 at the Beach Wrestling World Series stop in Rio de Janeiro in May. Inam won the bout in the group stages in Doha. The stage was set for the third bout of the rivalry in Doha with the gold medal at the inaguaral World Beach Games on line.
Muhammad INAM (PAK) downed London Olympic bronze medalist Dato Marsagishvili (GEO), 5-3, in the World Beach Games finals. (Photo: Theo Lowenstein)
Marsagashvili build a two-point lead with two single-point takedowns. Inam roared back with two of his own to lead 2-2 on criteria and knew he has to play the clock for the last 40 seconds to win the gold medal.
Marsagashvili wanted to avenge his loss to Inam earlier in the day. In a desperate move in the closing seconds of the bout, he tried to trip Inam for the win but it was the latter who managed to balance himself and exposed Marsagishvili's back. Inam was awarded three points and the top medal.
"I have wrestled him before and I knew what I lacked in that bout in Rio," Inam said. "I loved winning in Doha because everyone was shouting in the arena and I was wrestling for Pakistan. The bout was so tough and to win it after a comeback gave me more joy. I cannot explain the atmosphere that day."
Back home, he was given a hero's welcome. Everyone wanted a piece of Inam and he had interviews lined-up with channels for several days.
After a successful campaign in Doha, Inam is hoping that beach wrestling can be included in the Olympic program for 2024 Games in Paris. Though he will be 35-years-old by then, he wants to win a wrestling medal for Pakistan which last won an Olympic medal in the sport back in 1960 Games in Rome.
Muhammad INAM (PAK) celebrates after winning the World Beach Games gold medal. (Photo: Theo Lowenstein)
"Beach wrestling will keep growing as it's so easy for both wrestlers and crowd," he said. "It is viewer friendly and only three minutes long. The rules are you need to touch a wrestler's back on the ground to win. This rule in common in all dangals across Pakistan and India and most wrestling styles around the world. If not that then push out your opponent to win."
"Freestyle and Greco-Roman is different because there are typical rules. The aggressive wrestler is also going down on his back and people get confuse as to why he is being awarded points when he is down on his back."
Olympic glory would definitely bring more money and fame for Inam but he thinks it will help wrestling, which is currently 'neglected' in the country. Though the boys still practice at the few centers that are left in the countries, Inam thinks it unfortunate that Pakistan could not build a women's wrestling team.
Freestyle wrestling is yet to pick up in Pakistan while belt wrestling is seen as the more acceptable form of the sport. Inam, however, thinks that beach wrestling can pick up in Pakistan and women will also be able to take up the sport.
"Pakistan has women's teams of karate, judo, taekwondo and even cricket. So why not wrestling?" he asks. "Beach wrestling is amazing to remove these culture problems and oppression which are same for everyone.
"If they are allowed in other sports, then allow them in wrestling as well. For gender equality, it is the best way to start. I think girls should be free to think if they want to go into sports. World has changed and with that we have to change and allow girls in wrestling."
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