Wrestling 2012: Sushil, Yogeshwar cynosure of all eyes
Four years of blood, sweat and tears culminated into a historic Olympic performance as Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt did the country proud with lion-hearted performances in a truly memorable 2012 for Indian wrestling.
Sushil scripted history by becoming the first Indian to win back-to-back individual medals, a silver in London after is Beijing bronze, while his long-term friend Yogeshwar claimed a memorable bronze as Indian wrestlers proved their mettle at the greatest sporting extravaganza on earth.
Sushil records his name in the annals of Indian sports
Sushil's success at the London Games was a testimony to the fact that his bronze medal-winning performance in Beijing four years ago was not a flash in the pan.
Growing up in a non-descript village called Baprola on the outskirts of the national capital, the modest Sushil fought bravely after vomiting and suffering dehydration following his semifinal victory over Kazakhstan's Akzhurek Tanatarov, but ended up a 1-3 loser against a strong Japanese rival Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu in the gold medal bout.
Nevertheless, even the silver was enough for the 29-year-old to record his name in the annals of Indian sports.
If the bronze in the Chinese capital awakened the country to Sushil's potential, the white metal reaffirmed his status as one of the best in the business.
Sushil's qualification to the London Games was no less a story in itself as this stockily built man sealed his berth in his third attempt after winning the 66kg freestyle title at the World Qualifying Tournament.
Yogeshwar produced a heroic show
On the other hand, Yogeshwar produced a heroic show on the mat as he worked his way through three rounds of repechage to snatch the bronze medal in the men's freestyle 60 kg category at the Excel Arena.
Yogeshwar pulled off a spectacular 3-1 victory over North Korea's Ri Jong Myong to bring about his moment of glory in a thrilling bout, which saw the Indian concede the first round.
Yogeshwar clinched the second round and in the decider, the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist pulled off a stunning 'fitele', a term used by wrestlers when they twirl their opponent on their back a few times with great speed, to completely leave the Korean in a daze.
The 29-year-old, who also injured his eye during the bouts, said his body had given up but his spirit kept him going as he fought three opponents in less than an hour to clinch a bronze.
Awards galore for wrestlers
Even after the London Games, Indian wrestlers continued to be the cynosure of all eyes as a Khel Ratna, three Arjuna awards, one Dhyanchand and a Dronacharya further boosted their confidence.
While Yogeshwar was awarded the country's highest sporting honour -- Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna while Narsingh Pancham Yadav, Geeta Phogat and Ravinder Kumar received the Arjuna awards.
Vinod Kumar was honoured with the Dhyanchand award while Yashvir Singh, the long-time coach of Sushil and Yogeshwar, walked away with the prestigious Dronacharya award on the National Sports Day at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Five grapplers had qualified for the London Games with Geeta Phogat becoming the first Indian female wrestler to have qualified for the Olympics after she won a gold medal in the Asian Qualifying Tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan.
While Geeta and Narsingh Yadav crashed out in their respective opening bouts, the youngest member of the contingent, Amit Kumar Dahiya lost in the quarters of the 55kg freestyle category.
Apart from the Olympics, Indian wrestlers also made their presence felt around the globe with quite a few medals coming their way at the major international events.
Image: President Pranab Mukherjee presents the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratan to Yogeshwar Dutt
Dawn of women's wrestling in India
In a historic first for Indian women's wrestling, the country notched up a second medal at the World Championships after Geeta Kumari (55kg) added another bronze to the one clinched by her sister Babita in Edmonton, Canada.
Babita won bronze in the 55kg in women's free style event.
At the Asian Qualifying Tournament for the London Games, Amit and Yogeshwar clinched a gold and silver medal respectively while Geeta won a gold medal.
In the Junior Asian Wrestling Championship held in Kazakhstan from May 30 to June 3, Indian wrestlers brought laurels to the country by grabbing five medals including one gold.
The Indian wrestling contingent also finished with a rich-medal haul, including nine golds and four bronze in the Copa Brasil-2012 tournament held in Rio from November 29 to December 2.
However, the wrestling community could not keep itself free from the controversy when junior women wrestlers alleged sexual harassment by a coach at the under-19 national camp in Lucknow for the Asian Junior Championship in Kazakhstan from May 31 to June 3.
However, the case later turned out to be a result of rivalry between coaches with the Sports Authority of India probe concluding that the incident never took place and three of the four women, whose signatures were in the complaint, were forged.
The eight-member girls' team returned after winning two gold, a silver and five bronze from the meet.
Image: Geeta Phogat
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters