Grappler with a big heart

Grappler with a big heart

Sushil Kumar hopes to build on his bronze-medal effort this time

Grappler with a big heart

Away from the cacophony and unremitting queries, Sushil Kumar finds sweet release in the quiet of the training hall at the Sports Authority of India centre here.

His face, taut with concentration, neither reveals excitement nor betrays anxiety. But occasionally Sushil breaks into a familiar grin. United in purpose with other grapplers, he leads the training session with an authoritative calm. The London Olympics is important for the Indian wrestlers to assure the billions at home of their steady rise and Sushil is determined to carry his role to perfection.

Never the one to bicker about pressure, Sushil carries himself with the ease with which he flattens his opponent on the mat. He seeks redemption and revival in each moment. His stints at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and Beijing four years later are etched in his mind.

“Many do not know but I had a good chance to win a medal in Athens. I had beaten at least 15 wrestlers of my weight category before the Olympics but one Cuban fought exceptionally well and I lost to him in Athens. In Beijing too, I feel I could have done much better. My focus, today, is to ensure that I do not make the same mistakes,” Sushil, a bronze medallist in Beijing, told Deccan Herald after an exhaustive training session.

The bronze medal, won through a series of twists, suspense and persistence, changed the life of this introvert forever. The last four years have been like riding a wave, reaching new crests but also touching the troughs at times. “The Olympics medal gave me a lot of love and respect of people. It has made me more humble.”

After a rather lean 2009, the critics murmured but he silenced them with gold medals in the 2010 World Championships in Moscow and the Commonwealth Games the same year. His qualification to London Games was also fraught with uncertainty, before he finally made the cut in one of the last Olympic Qualifying tournaments in Taiyuan, China in April. He did it in style with a gold medal.

Sushil’s humble self-assessment speaks of his character. “Today there is lot of expectation from me but I don’t like to take pressure. How will it help me? Even when I was struggling to qualify, people at the training centre always believed that I would. Even the old watchman came and gave his wishes. It gives me a sense of responsibility. Anything can happen in a competition but you can only think of giving your best that day.”

It may be the third Olympics for the 66-kg grappler but he is excited like a first-timer. “Olympics comes once in four years. I see it as an opportunity to do new things, and to better my performance. A medal gives you recognition all over. In terms of experience and maturity, I have gained a lot. Also, we have four other wrestlers this time and I feel everyone has a good chance. It is our responsibility to ensure what we started in Beijing continues.”

The wrestling team has had extensive training at the high altitudes of Colorado Spring, US and will leave for Minsk, Belarus before heading to London.  “The training has been excellent. We sparred with various wrestlers from other countries. We are again going to Belarus as it will help us acclimatise to the time-zone, with London just couple of hours away. My focus is on speed, stamina and attacking at the right place.

“I have been training with the wrestlers above my weight categories. My defence has also improved a lot.”

Sushil, 29, has his vision for the future in place. “I am fit and have many more years in me. This is definitely not my last Olympics. My family has been extremely supportive in helping me maintain my training regime. My wife, being from a wrestling family, also understands the challenges. I have their wishes and of the entire country with me. Let us hope we return with more medals.”

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