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Indian wrestlers among the best in the world: Sushil

Last updated on: July 02, 2013 08:04 IST

Indian wrestlers among the best in the world: Sushil

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Wrestler Sushil Kumar created history at last year’s London Olympics when he won a silver medal in the 66 kg freestyle event. His second medal in successive Games made him first Indian to achieve the coveted feat.

Sushil, who won a bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008, turned a new chapter in his career last week by signing up with Olympic Gold Quest in a bid to win the elusive gold medal at the next Olympics in Rio in 2016.

Out of action for the last few months after sustaining a shoulder injury, the 30-year-old is gradually getting back to full fitness. He has started training with fellow-wrestlers in Sonipat, Haryana, with an eye on the upcoming World Championships in October.

Harish Kotian caught up with him to find out why he chose to sign up with OGQ and how he is planning for his ultimate mission of winning an Olympic gold in three years’ time.

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Image: Sushil Kumar
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

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'You can say I am 70 per cent in my training'

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What is the status on your fitness? You were out of action for the last few months with a shoulder injury…

I am fine now; I am back to proper training. Whatever tournaments I am assigned by the federation before the World Championships I will try my best to take part and do well.

I am taking it gradually, step by step. You can say I am 70 per cent in my training. I will slowly raise the level by 30 per cent and be 100 fit soon.

I had suffered a shoulder injury because of which my full arm became weak. Everyone, including my federation and coach Satpal Singh, were of the opinion that I should rest because I underwent rigorous training for a year ahead of the London Olympics.

The doctors had told me to undergo surgery but I underwent extensive rehab and I am regaining fitness and will be competing soon.

They decided that I should take a break and get some rest which will help me enter future tournaments in the best possible shape. I will be taking part in training-cum-exposure camps in the United States and Belarus to prepare for the World Championships later this year.


Image: Sushil Kumar with Viren Rasquinha
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com

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'Apart from joining OGQ as an athlete, I will also be an advisor'

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You have the experience of competing in two Olympics and won a bronze and silver medal. So why have you joined Olympic Gold Quest? Will you also be helping the youngsters who are part of OGQ?

If you see, at the London Olympics four out of the six Indian athletes who won medals were associated with OGQ. The biggest reason for OGQ’s success is that they do proper planning for each and every athlete who has signed up with them. They sign up athletes who are in need of funds and help others especially when they are very young.  For example, PV Sindhu signed up with OGQ when she was 14 and in two years she has improved so much and is doing so well at the world level.

If it was not for OGQ she would have not come up in such a sport span of time. They have proved that if you sign up athletes who are very young and work on their game at the grassroot level it makes a huge difference.

Apart from joining OGQ as an athlete, I will also be an advisor for wrestling. We are looking to develop the sport and try to find more young wrestlers and develop their game.


Image: Sushil Kumar after winning with the silver medal at the London Olympics
Photographs: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

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'Everyone in India was praying for me'

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You were unwell in the final of the 66 kg against Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu of Japan at the London Olympics. Were you disappointed at not winning the gold?

That was a very tough time for me. The night before the final I was down with a stomach bug and was vomiting continuously and suffering from loose motions; I was really weak. But since the Olympic Games come once in four years, I put everything into the final and said to myself that no matter what happens, how weak I feel, I will still go out and compete.

Everyone in India was praying and wanted me to win the gold, but, sadly, I could not give 100 per cent in that bout. Hopefully, I will get another chance in the next Olympic Games and win the gold medal.

All my coaches backed me to the hilt saying they believed I could do it. I was feeling physically down so they tried to motivate me so I could at least compete.

Did you bite Kazakhastan’s Akzhurek Tantarov’s ear in the London Olympics semi-finals? What was that controversy all about?

I already said at that time I am vegetarian...(laughs). It was just a tactic by them to unsettle me. There are so many cameras for every match; if I had really bitten his ear, they would have caught me. Many players try it after they lose important matches; it is nothing new.


Image: Sushil Kumar (blue) in action against Akzhurek Tanatarov of Kazakhstan during the men's Freestyle Wrestling 66kg semi-final match at the London 2012 Olympic Games
Photographs: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

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'It feels good when you win medals at the Olympic Games'

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You have won two individual Olympic medals, the most by an Indian sportsperson. Has life changed after your medal at the London Olympics?

It feels good when you win medals at the Olympic Games after all the hard work you have put in over the years. There is a lot of young talent in India and we need organisations like OGQ to guide and inspire them to do well. If you see, we are the World champion in the junior and senior categories; this has never happened before, so it shows that there is a lot of potential in the country.

Is there the pressure of expectation? Every time you take part in any event, people expect you to win…

I don’t feel any pressure, I just enjoy my game. If I felt the pressure then I would not have won the two Olympic medals. I prepare myself well and train to my level-best and hope all goes on well out in the middle. I am never tense about my upcoming bouts; I just live in the present and focus on preparation.


Image: Sushil Kumar
Photographs: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

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'I am confident that I need 45 days maximum to prepare for any event'

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As you said, there is a lot of young talent in the country in wrestling. So was it a relief that wrestling made the shortlist for the 2020 Olympics?

I knew it from the start that wrestling would make the shortlist because you can see how popular wrestling is. Many people love to watch the bouts. We got eight out of the 15 votes and I am confident that in September when the IOC will vote for the inclusion of wrestling at the 2020 Olympics] we will survive that also.

There are three years to go for the next Olympic Games, in Rio, in 2016. When will you start preparing for that mega-event?

Whenever I target anything, I keep 45 days in hand for it. I am confident that I need 45 days maximum to prepare for any event, whether it is the Olympic Games or World Championships. I prepare my training schedule accordingly which ensures that I go into the event in the best possible fitness and form.

Also are you also planning to give something back to the sport?

Yes, definitely, that is foremost on my agenda. The chief minister of Haryana, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, recently allotted me land for an academy for wrestling. The Madhya Pradesh government has also given me land for an academy and the Uttar Pradesh government is also planning on the same lines.

If we can open good, world-class academies all over the country, we can manage young wrestlers better and give them the required training and exposure by organising a lot of tournaments throughout the year.


Image: Sushil Kumar
Photographs: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

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'We are very close to winning the gold medal'

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You won bronze in Beijing and silver in London, where Yogeshwar Dutt also won a bronze. Are you confident we can get more medals from wrestling in Rio and also win the coveted gold medal in four years' time?

If you see, we won one medal in Beijing and in the last Games in London we won two. So we are certainly progressing on the right track. I have a feeling that we are very close to winning the gold medal because our wrestlers are among the best in the world; we just need to work on some small areas. I am confident that with some more hard work and dedication we can win a lot more medals in the next Olympics, including a gold.

So many people lost their lives in the Uttarakhand tragedy last month. How did you react when you first heard the news?

It is a very big disaster. We were really sad when we heard about the tragedy and saw the pictures. All our wrestlers at the camp observed a few minutes’ silence and prayed for everyone who affected by the floods.

It will take a long time for Uttarakhand to recover from this. I request everyone in India to help the people there in this moment of grief so that they get back to normalcy as soon as possible.


Image: Sushil Kumar
Photographs: Grigory D/Reuters

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