Grappler's tale of grit

Yogeshwar erases painful memories of knee injury with a bronze

Doing cartwheels on the mat, Yogeshwar Dutt was a picture of delight at the ExCel arena on Saturday night. Three years ago though, he wouldn’t have even imagined he could enter the arena, let alone wrestle.

Yogeshwar Dutt picked up a bronze medal from the wrestling mat with a stirring dispay against North Korea’s Jong Mong Ri. REUTERS

Having suffered a serious knee injury -- he tore his anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments during the national trials -- he was out of the sport for six months. Faced with an uncertain future, he found timely support in Mittal Champions Trust. Six months of treatment in South Africa brought him back to the sport he loved so much and Saturday was payback time for the 60kg wrestler who was competing in his third Olympics.

“My legs used to shake and I had no strength. I knew how it is done but I could not do it. At that time I got a lot of support from my fellow wrestlers, including Sushil Kumar, and I started from scratch,” Yogeshwar had told Deccan Herald about those dark days.

Gold medals in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Championships then reinforced his belief and the painful days of 2009 seemed a distant memory on Saturday when he won the bronze medal after gutsy performances through the repechage rounds. After suffering a second-round defeat, he showed tremendous will power to claw his way back to the podium, defeating North Korea’s Ri Jong Myong for the third spot.

“I was very down when I lost early but when I got a chance in the repechage, the entire country was behind me,” said the 29-year-old on Saturday. “I didn’t want to lose on this occasion and god has been very kind to me.”

Yogeshwar had lost out in the quarterfinals in Beijing but he knew the world recognised only a winner. “Jo jeeta wohi sikander. Either you are a hero or a zero,” he quipped. “Nobody remembers that I had reached the quarterfinals in Beijing.”

“I am happy to win the bronze medal but not totally satisfied. Actually, I came here to win the gold,” he said. “I was confident that my preparations were enough to win the gold.”

The draw, however, proved tough for the Indian. “I was in no tension after having a look at the draw. But when I lost to my Russian rival (Besik Kudukhov), who is a former world champion, I was down initially but then became determined to go for the bronze. I had to do it. I had to attack. It was now or never for me,” said the Haryana wrestler.

Seizing that chance, Yogeshwar made sure that there won’t be any regrets when he looks back on his career, a few years from now.

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