Seeing opportunity in every obstacle

Sushil Kumar celebrates after entering the final of the men’s 66 kg freestyle.-PTI

Sushil Kumar is the one Indian sportsperson who has made tremendous progress from the last Olympics in Beijing. Moreover, he is the only Indian to win individual medals in two successive Olympics. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

He is a champion at heart. It is not surprising that he helped Indian wrestling graduate from the bronze medal status to silver on the final day of the London Olympics. Without doubt, Sushil Kumar, 29, is the one Indian sportsperson who has made tremendous progress from the last Olympics in Beijing. Moreover, he is the only Indian to win individual medals in two successive Olympics.

Sushil, like a phoenix, came back into the contest after losing the first round in Beijing. He won three rounds in the repechage to emulate K. D. Jadhav (1952 Helsinki Games) by winning a wrestling medal for India in the Olympics.

“What I could not do in Beijing, I will try to do in London,” Sushil said then. He kept his promise.

“A lot of people wondered whether we could change the colour of the medal in wrestling. With the blessings and good wishes of the whole country, I am happy that I could do that. I see a golden future for Indian wrestling by the next Olympics,” said Sushil, after winning the silver medal in the 66 kg freestyle category at the ExCel Arena, hours before the Closing Ceremony.

Sushil’s improvement has been sure and steady. Perhaps Sergey Bubka’s charm had rubbed off on Sushil as he received his medal from the pole vault legend in Beijing. Bubka, incidentally, had bettered the world record 27 times.

Sushil had finished 14th on his Olympic debut in Athens (2004). Four years later, in Beijing, he won the bronze medal. And now, in London, he has won the silver medal. So, do not be surprised if he becomes the No. 1 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar called Sushil in London to congratulate him on the wonderful achievement. He expressed his desire to meet the champion wrestler at a function in India soon.

Sushil, who rode on the confidence of his Beijing Olympic medal to win the World Championship gold in 2010, is of the view that Indian wrestlers are capable of matching the best in the world. He himself proved it by defeating the defending champion, Ramazan Sahin of Turkey, in the first round. Facing the Beijing Games champion was not a hurdle for Sushil. Instead, he looked at it as an opportunity.

“When I fight anyone, I just try to do my best. I do not worry about the record of the opponent. Everyone who comes to the Olympics has to be good, and is trying to show his ability to the world. You have to be prepared for anyone. Every situation is different and you have to be alert all the time. The wrestlers are becoming quicker by the day,” said Sushil, who spends months together in training camps with single-minded devotion.

One cannot succeed at the highest level of sport if he is not willing to shed blood, sweat and tears in training.

There was a bit of blood in the semifinal bout as Sushil pressed his face hard on the ear of Akzhurek Tanatarov of Kazakhstan. The Indian was trailing 0-3 in the decisive third period then and needed to do something dramatic to revive his fortunes.

“Did you bite his ear?” The question was point blank, after he had secured the medal. Sushil was unperturbed and replied with a quick sense of humour, “I am a vegetarian.”

Sushil Kumar tries to roll his opponent Akzhurek Tanatarov of Kazakhstan over in their 66 kg freestyle semifinal bout.-PTI

Sushil was drained of energy due to dehydration before the final against Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu of Japan, who had finished runner-up in the last World Championship in Istanbul and had also won the Asian Games gold in Guangzhou.

The Japanese was strong and intense as he conceded only a single point to Sushil in the final.

“I was lucky. It is impossible to do it just with my strength. It is because of a combination of luck, good condition, good performance,” said the Japanese after winning the gold.

Sushil pointed out that most of the wrestlers knew each other and had a lot of concern for each other. He has been training in Colarado Springs (the United States) and Minsk (Belarus) and has made friends with some of the best wrestlers of the world.

So even when there is blood on the mat, there is no bad blood between the wrestlers.

Sushil became the only Indian to win back-to-back individual Olympic medals because he does not look at the expectations of his fellow citizens as a burden. Instead, Sushil treats it as a positive energy. He may not be the best in the country, even counting his two Olympic medals apart from his World Championship gold, but Sushil is definitely one of the most loved Indian sportsmen.