A star in his own right

“I want to be remembered as a good human being who worked hard for his sport; one who respected and loved all,” says Sushil Kumar in a chat with Y. B. Sarangi.

Dedication is world champion Sushil Kumar's middle name. The secret of his success on the biggest stage — the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the gold at the World Championship in Moscow recently — has been his single-minded approach and intense training (four hours each, in the morning and evening) everyday for the last 15 years.

Despite his success at the international level, Sushil — the reigning World, Asian and Commonwealth champion in 66kg freestyle — does not have the air one normally associates with a star sportsperson. Rather, one is bowled over by his humility and warm personality. His track record as a person is impeccable. Ask any coach or wrestler who has been with him for some time at least, and he will only express love and admiration for Sushil.

Sportstar caught up with the champion wrestler on his return from the World Championship in Moscow.

Question: What does it take to be a World champion?

Answer: One has to make a lot of sacrifices. One has to leave everything aside and focus on his training only. For the last 14-15 years, I have never stopped training, unless I was unwell or down with an injury. One has to work really hard in order to achieve something in life.

What is the difference between competing in the World Championship and the Olympics? Which is more difficult in terms of achieving success?

Both are equally difficult. One has to go through the qualification process in order to get a ticket to the Olympics. There you meet all the top wrestlers of the world. In the World Championships, one has to fight a lot of bouts since every country sends its best wrestlers and all of them come fully prepared.

Three back-to-back events — you first had the World Championship (Moscow, September 5-12), then you have the Commonwealth Games (in October) followed by the Asian Games (in November). This is a very challenging phase in your career. How have you planned for it?

I have planned for it since it is going to put a lot of pressure on my body and mind. I have been doing a lot of endurance training, weight training and fitness training to attain the level of energy required for such major competitions.

What does the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi mean to you?

It really means a lot to me. It is being held in our country and the pride of our country is involved, so it is my goal to do well and live up to the expectations of the people.

How do you prepare for a big event?

I watch video clips of my prospective opponents, study their strong points and chart out my strategies accordingly against them. I sincerely stick to my training besides making the effort to stay away from any ailments.

When so many athletes, including six in wrestling, have failed dope tests, you should be the ideal role model for younger athletes. How difficult is it to stay away from dope?

One has to be very careful while taking any medicine like antibiotics or any eye or nasal drops. The athlete should always consult the doctor who is attached with the camp and be doubly sure before taking any medicine. One must remember that ultimately it is the athlete who is responsible for a dope offence.

How do you handle yourself so gracefully without getting distracted by success, fame or money?

It is because of the ‘sanskar' (grooming) I have got from my family. I love everybody and respect my elders. I do not want to hurt anybody and always try to give time to everybody despite my tight schedule. My family members — my father, mother, uncle, aunt etc. — are all proud of me. By God's grace, so far I have remained as I am, and hopefully will continue to do that.

What is the reaction of the people of your village and area since you became a star wrestler?

They all shower me with their love and affection and take pride in my achievements. They all follow wrestling. They come to me to express their support and give their blessings to me and my family.

For how many more years would you want to continue?

I will continue to wrestle as long as I give good results. London Olympics is my target. If I stay in good form, I may continue further. Once I retire, I would like to share the things I have learnt with our young wrestlers.

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as a good human being who worked hard for his sport; one who respected and loved all.

* * * Aiming for gold in London

Yashvir Singh, the man who has seen Sushil Kumar grow in skill, temperament and stature from close quarters in the last 15 years, strongly believes that his ward has all that is required to win an Olympic gold medal.

Earlier, the coach was quietly confident, but now, after Sushil's victory at the World Championship in Moscow, he does not mind saying it aloud.

“To be honest, our real target now is to win the Olympic gold medal in London,” says Yashvir.

So, what are the challenges the 27-year-old world champion would have to face in order to achieve that dream?

“He has grown up from being a youngster to a mature wrestler. One challenge will be to maintain his performance. And (since the London Olympics is two years away) the foremost will be to keep up his fitness level,” Yashvir says.

Yashvir agrees that Sushil's immediate goal is the Commonwealth Games. “He never skips training, so that is not a problem. Since the Games will be held in India there is bound to be some psychological pressure to perform before one's own people. However, he is experienced enough to handle that,” says the coach.

Recalling Sushil's career-graph — beginning with his World cadet title in 1998 — Yashvir says of the ace grappler: “Over the years he has become more and more confident with each success. He has always been an aggressive wrestler on the mat, but a very loving human being off it. He is friendly with all his fellow wrestlers. He cracks jokes with them and never behaves like a star.”