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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Led by Sushil, wrestlers set sights high

Sushil Kumar

NEW DELHI: When an 11-year-old Jat lad walked through the gates of north Delhi’s Chhattrasal Stadium to learn wrestling some 18 years ago, there was something about him that told coach Satpal that the boy was marked for greatness.

“He weighed just 26-27 kgs but performed wonderfully in my trials. In fact, I couldn’t stop myself from saying that this boy will go on to be a world champion,” says Satpal.

That boy, Sushil Kumar, went on to bring home an Olympic wrestling medal after a gap of no less than 56 years.

Sushil learned his trade from the best – Satpal is a Asian Games gold medalist and Arjuna awardee – and became an icon for others to follow after his show in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winner leads a band of five wrestlers to London and going by the second-most popular Najafgarh hero’s (second only to possibly Virender Sehwag) opinion, India should expect at least five medals.

“All five of us can bring back medals from London. If the luck of the draw goes our way, there is no reason why all of us can’t end up on the podium,” a super-confident Sushil said.

India’s brightest hope will, of course, be Sushil who has improved with every Olympic appearance starting off with a 14th place finish in Athens.

The reserved grappler, who married his mentor’s eldest daughter, Savi, acknowledges the support of his wife in his career. “My wife, and before that my parents, have always been supportive. Thanks to her, I can concentrate on my training. She is very understanding, considering the amount of time I spend away from home,” Sushil, who’s wife Savi has been preparing for IAS exams, said.

Sushil fulfilled his coach’s prophecy in 2010 going on to claim gold in the World Championships in Moscow – the first for an Indian. But a lot of hardwork and years of sweat have gone into making the man that is Sushil Kumar at the moment.

Day in and day out, Sushil woke up at 4 in the morning for running and cardio sessions followed by three hours of wrestling practice every morning and evening. The grappler from Baprola village also had to overcome another hurdle – his vegetarian diet. “Diet has never been a hurdle for Sushil. He consumes four kilos of milk daily along with 250 grams of fresh butter, badam and plenty of ghee with seasonal vegetables every day,” Satpal said.

In a two-year period between his Beijing bronze and the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold, Sushil hardly lost a bout on the mat. It took a shoulder injury in 2010 to slow the wrestling machine down as he was laid low for a year and a half.

Injury or otherwise, Sushil never let his ‘shoulders’ slump and won his London berth with a commanding performance in the World Qualifying tournament in Taiyuan, China by winning a gold in the 66kg freestyle category.

Another man with much more to prove than Sushil in London will be Yogeshwar Dutt. The 29-year-old went to Beijing as one of the favourites but only progressed as far as the quarterfinals.

The defeat still irks the 29-year-old, also a pupil of Satpal, as he made a remarkable comeback from a possibly career-ending knee injury.

“If I had won a medal in Beijing I would have possibly quit after the injury. It was the desire to win a medal for India that has kept me going all these years,” the grappler, who will be competing in the 60kg category, said.

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