Sushil Kumar courts glory in 66kg freestyle wrestling

For a brief while on the final day of London 2012, India’s hopes of a gold medal soared sky-high. Only for a brief while. 

India’s Sushil Kumar and Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu in action on Sunday. DH PHOTO / KN SHANTH KUMAR
Sushil Kumar’s presence in the final of the 66kg weight category in wrestling and his brilliant displays in the earlier rounds had triggered the excitement. But in a swift and simple act, Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu dashed those hopes, relegating the Indian champion to silver medal position with a 2-0 verdict and earning his country’s first wrestling gold since 1988.

Sushil, bothered by an old shoulder injury and suffering from dehydration, still stood tall on the day despite the defeat. The bronze medal winner in Beijing four years ago, he became the first Indian to win two individual medals in Olympic history – a no mean achievement.

“I was hoping for gold, but he knew my technique and I couldn’t do anything to halt it,” said Sushil. But he had done enough to bring his sport back into the spotlight  after the days of K D Jadhav.

Jadhav had won the bronze at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and Sushil broke India’s barren spell with another bronze in Beijing. Yogeshwar Dutt having won the bronze on Saturday, the Indian wrestling team can go back with a sense of pride, joining shooting as the only sport to fetch multiple medals from London 2012.

Coming through three tough rounds and having beaten the reigning champion along the way, Sushil was in for a serious test in the final, with the Japanese having sailed through his previous bouts. The 26-year-old had won the Asian Games gold medal in Guangzhou 2010 – which was skipped by Sushil due to a shoulder injury -- and was second in the World Championships last year. High on confidence and built  like a bull, he was strong in both offence and defence.

As such, Sushil’s plans came unstuck early. Walking into a raucous cheers from the flag-waving fans, the Indian carried old wounds that restricted him from using his skills to the hilt. His shoulder was taped and his right hand was bandaged after he got injured on the back of his hand in the second round earlier in the day.

After a cagey early period, Yonemitsu swung into action to hold down Sushil for a point. Cleverly evading the Indian’s attempt to grab his leg, he successfully withstood Sushil’s attacks to take the round.

The decisive move of the second period came early, with the Japanese lifting Sushil and bringing him down 40 seconds into the period. That fetched him three good points and though Sushil fought to earn a point by a hold down, the bout was as good as over by then, as the Japanese stood like a rock to defend his points.

Earlier, Sushil defeated Ramazan Sahin, the defending champion, in the pre-quarterfinals. Sahin won the first period but Sushil took the second through a clinch and then scored a vital point with a hold down in the decider to make the quarters.

The former world champion then took out Ikhtiyor Navruzov of Uzbekistan – suffering a hand injury along the way – and Akzhurek Tanatarov of Kazakhstan in the semifinals.

Sushil had to bring out all his skills to ward off Tanatarov. After splitting the first two periods, the Kazakh was up 3-0 in the decider but Sushil got hold of him to lift him high and slamming to the mat, fetching him a winning lead. The effort, however, might have hampered his chances in the final where he needed all his strengths to challenge Yonemitsu. Sadly for him and India, the Japanese proved too strong but despite the defeat, Sushil had carved his name in history.

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