Repêchage, a French word, literally means to to fish out or rescue. In sport it translates to a second chance. The logic behind repêchage is that in case a strong competitor is pitted against another strong contender early in the contest, the loser gets a second opportunity.
In Olympic wrestling, there are no seedings in the draws, and all those who have lost to the two finalists are put into repêchage brackets and given a chance to fight for two bronze medals, one each from upper and lower halves.
Repêchage is also used in rowing, canoeing and kayaking, where conditions such as wind may vary significantly between heats, affecting a competitor’s time. and therefore a rowing repechage allows the “fastest losers” to qualify independent of the variable conditions in the opening heats. In athletics, in the track events, the best competitors in each heat automatically qualify for the next round. Other competitors with the best timings may also qualify for the next round indirectly as fastest losers, which is a form of repêchage. In karate, judo, taekwondo and wrestling tournaments, single elimination brackets (also called the knock-out format) are used to determine the two participants who will compete for the gold and silver, with the fighters they have beaten competing against each other in repêchage for bronze. Other uses are in baseball and softball, cycling, rugby and sailing.*
Four years ago in Beijing, it took a lot of convincing from me before colleagues would believe that Sushil Kumar, despite losing his first bout, was still in with a chance if his conqueror reached the final. Fellow journalists were skeptical, as always; they nodded indulgently but refused to take me seriously.
When Sushil’s conqueror, Andrey Stadnik, made the final the Indian got a second chance. Our media was unaware of Sushil’s progress till he had won two of his three repêchage bouts. I convinced a fellow TV scribe, Vimal Kumar of NDTV, who blindly followed me, as did a couple of others. We made it just in time to see Sushil get into position for his third bout against Kazakh Leonid Spiridonov. Sushil won 3-1 and with it grabbed India’s first wrestling bronze of the 2008 Games and the second in history after the 1952 bronze from KD Jadhav. (Stadnik lost the 2008 final to Turkey’s Ramazan Sahin.)
The rest of the Indian media did eventually follow, but by that time Sushil had finished the bout and was coming to meet us in the Mixed Zone!
In London 2012, Sushil Kumar did not need it, winning his way through to the 66kgs finals, where he lost to Tasuhiro Yonemitsu of Japan, to get a silver. (Interestingly, Ramazan Sahin lost to Sushil in the first round this time, and since the Indian went on to reach the final, Sahin went into repêchage, but lost his bronze medal bout to Kazakh Akzhurek Tanatarov.)
Yogeshwar Dutt, another wrestler, ensured that the Indian media had not learned a French word in vain. Dutt won his first 60kg bout against Bulgarian Anatolie Guidea (who had won silver in the European championships) but lost to three-time world champion Besik Kudukhov. Kudukhov eventually reached the final, so Dutt got his second chance in the repêchage, and this time the Indian media was fully aware of what could happen and therefore in full attendance to follow the wrestler all the way. Dutt seized his chance, winning three bouts to claim a bronze.
Amit Kumar (55kg), another Indian challenger in London, also lost to an eventual finalist (Vladimer Khinchegashvili of Georgia, who won silver), so went in to repêchage, where he lost to Radoslav Velikov of Bulgaria.
* Editor’s note:
In the IPL, the semi-finals were replaced by a kind of repêchage. The top two teams played in one qualifier, with the winner (let’s call it Team A) gong through to the final. But the loser (B) had one more chance. The third- and fourth-ranked teams played an eliminator, with the winner (C) having the one more hurdle to cross, and the loser (D) dropping out of the contest. B then played C, with the winner going through to the final against A.