Different challenges, same goal - Vinesh, Sushil have Tokyo on their target

While Vinesh Phogat won her maiden World Championship medal and clinched an Olympic quota, ace wrestler Sushil Kumar made a first-round exit.

From left: India wrestlers Divya Kakran, Sushil Kumar, Vinesh Phogat, Sarita Mor and Sandeep Tomar at the launch of ZEE Kushti Dangal.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

At 25, Vinesh Phogat is seeking her first Olympic medal in 2020 and wipe off memories of a freak injury and an incomplete Rio outing.

At 36, Sushil Kumar has got two from Olympics – and is still hopeful of booking a ticket to Tokyo.

The two personify the pinnacle of Indian wrestling across a generation but their present circumstances could not have been more contrasting.

Vinesh is the biggest star, medal hope and Indian wrestling’s pin-up girl after clinching an Olympic quota and bronze at the recent World Championships. Sushil is fighting age, talk of retirement and loss of speed and stamina. Neither is willing to give up their dreams.

Vinesh has become more circumspect of the past and focused on the future.

“When you complete a bout, regardless of the result, you know where you stand. At Rio I could not even complete my bout so that feeling of not knowing has felt incomplete. That will always be there till I manage to finish it off,” she said on the sidelines of an event on Monday.

The 25-year-old admitted she was not sure of ever going to the Olympics again but now that she has qualified, the next 10 months would be all about training and strategising.

“I think I have only benefited from changing my weight category. I have won medals in every competition this year. It’s total rest right now but I have already begun thinking of Tokyo. Now that there is no worry about qualifying, I have already begun writing down the good and bad from my bouts at the Worlds, listing my opponents and their strengths,” she said.

"You will see a different Sushil"

Sushil, meanwhile, is the first to admit that he is not growing any younger but insists on pushing himself. He suffered a first-round ouster at the Worlds but his participation, he said, was never about medal.

“Honestly, I did not want to participate at the Worlds. I have not had enough training and I have not had enough mat time in terms of competition. But my coach said you have to participate in every competition possible, be in action at least once a month. It feels good to be back on mat,” Sushil, who returned in the early hours of Monday, said.

Working with Russian coach Kamal Malikov – besides his long time Georgian coach Vladimir Mestvirishvili – Sushil knows the talk around his future.

“People have been saying since 2008 (when he won Olympic bronze) that I have achieved a lot. But I feel an athlete should not quit till he has anything left in him. My performance has improved a lot since Asian Games. Lot of foreign coaches (at Kazakhstan) said I should go all out in training and I can promise you will see techniques and moves rarely seen before from me hereon,” he said.

“I did not target the Worlds immediately after Asiad and concentrated on Asians, which was a mistake. Two months training is not enough for this level, I have to work on my stamina, but it is showing results.

"I became defensive in the last one minute when I should have gone for an attack at Worlds but you keep learning,” he said.