‘I want to make it a hat-trick of medals in Rio’

K. RAGESH

“As a wrestler I am delighted to see our boys and girls winning laurels for the country in major international meets,” says Sushil Kumar. P. K. Ajith Kumar listens in.

“Things have changed for the better since 2008,” says Sushil Kumar, with a smile. The question Sportstar posed to the wrestler, in Kozhikode recently, was about the state of the sport in India.

“I am really happy to know that I have done my bit to take wrestling to the centre stage in my country,” says Sushil, who won an Olympic medal in wrestling for India after 56 years, in 2008. “Yes, it feels nice when I am recognised here even in Kerala, where, I know, wrestling is not a very popular sport.”

Sushil was in Kerala as the chief guest of the State wrestling championship, shortly before his trip to the United States for training. “Because of the consistent performances of our wrestlers, we now get excellent support from the government; this trip to the United States is an example of that,” he says. “As a wrestler I am delighted to see our boys and girls winning laurels for the country in major international meets. I skipped the Incheon Asian Games because I wanted to give opportunities to our youngsters, who did well. It was a fantastic performance by Yogeshwar Dutt, who won the gold. Our women too are making rapid strides and I find Vinesh Phogat, who won a bronze in Incheon, very promising.”

Wrestling in India would get much better, when the Indian Wrestling League kicks off. “We are all looking forward to the league,” says Sushil. “We will have some world-class wrestlers from countries such as Iran, Kazakhstan, United States, Russia Ukraine and Georgia. Our wrestlers too will become better when they compete with them. That is what happened to kabaddi. I feel the Pro Kabaddi League was the perfect preparation for our kabaddi team; remember how well we had to fight against Iran to clinch the gold.”

He says the success of the Indian Super League (ISL) also augurs well for the future of Indian football. “It is important that an Olympic discipline like football becomes popular in India,” he says. “It is great to see the ISL bringing back the crowd to football grounds.”

Sushil Kumar with Yogeshwar Dutt, who won gold at the Incheon Asian Games. “Because of the consistent performances of our wrestlers, we now get excellent support from the government,” says Sushil.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Sushil, who is also the first World wrestling champion from India, is hopeful that India would begin to make its mark in other global sports. “There are several encouraging signs,” he says. “Sandeep Sejwal’s bronze medal in swimming at the Asian Games is a huge positive because it is a sport in which we haven’t had a great tradition. Another major gain from Incheon was Dipa Karmarkar’s medal in gymnastics, which, too, is not known to produce champions.”

He feels India could do even better if Olympic disciplines are encouraged more. “Our focus should really be on Olympic sports,” he says. “With planning and proper facilities for training we would win more medals in international events.”

Sushil is hoping to take his tally of Olympic medals to three, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. “Winning the silver in the 2012 Olympics in London was great, but I want to make it a hat-trick of medals in Rio,” he says. “I am confident that I can do it.”