Yogeshwar gunning for glory

Yogeshwar gunning for glory

The 33-year-old will look to bag another medal in the twilight of his career

Yogeshwar gunning for glory

The wrestling hall of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre, located on the outskirts of Delhi, follows a set routine. The grapplers trickle in by 7:30 am, fold their hands in front of a wall-mounted, tiny statue of Lord Hanuman and weigh themselves on a scale before taking to the mat.

As they begin their warm-up, shooting hoops followed by a slow jog in circles, they take the opportunity to touch the feet of Yogeshwar Dutt. With Sushil Kumar missing the bus to Rio, he is the solitary spearhead of India's Olympic squad.

Despite his popularity, Yogeshwar appears a tad aloof amongst the 30-odd wrestlers. His understudy Bajrang briefly leads the training session, his clap indicating a change in the exercise routine. The rest follow the cue like in a well-rehearsed dance play, but Yogeshwar occasionally breaks away to perform a set of his own. No one bothers, including the three coaches overlooking the training. At 33, Yogeshwar is undoubtedly the fittest among those present, his injury-prone body carefully preserved by taping. He is also the only one to flaunt a tri-colour stripes on his shorts.

In all probability, this will be Yogeshwar's last Olympics and also his fourth. The yearning to sign off with a gold has driven him through injuries, including a troublesome knee last year. In fact, his career has been dotted with battles of overcoming various injuries, with Yogeshwar bouncing back each time with a medal. "We have been training five-six hours daily with the focus purely on Olympics. My dream is to win an Olympic gold for my country and I am leaving no stone unturned. I have worked a lot on my fitness. I have had a lot of injuries during my career, last year too I had to have a knee operation but I have fully recovered now. I am having special gym sessions, mat sessions and also cross country run," Yogeshwar, a bronze medallist at London Games, told Deccan Herald.

Unlike in London, Yogeshwar will be the only Olympic medallist wrestler in Rio. The absence of Sushil is a pinching, unspoken reality in the arena. Yogeshwar, once a close friend, will not speak much about it. He has been outspoken in his support of Narsingh Yadav and limits himself to the upcoming Olympics. "For now, we have Narsingh participating in the Olympics and we should be encouraging him. The medal will go to the country at the end of the day," he said.

The grueling session lasted for nearly an hour and a half but Yogeshwar wraps up a little early for his massage. In between, he also talks to the players and listen to the coaches. He understands that being the seniormost, he holds a certain responsibility. "I am always there for the players. So far we have performed well under pressure and I hope the trend continues in Rio."

In London Olympics, Yogeshwar had competed in the 60 kg class but in Rio, he would be performing in the 65kg. He is satisfied with the way he has settled into his new weight category "The rules have also changed since 2012 - now there are two rounds of three minutes for which we need stamina, speed, endurance and power. I have been working on all that but especially on my leg attack and defence," he said.

The competition, he admits, would be tough. "But it is not that anyone is unbeatable. I have studied all my opponents. In wrestling, the day you fight should be yours. I hope the day will be mine when I fight for that gold medal.