For the third time in eight years, Sushil Kumar stood proudly on the podium that he has made his own. From the aloofness of television sets, the country watched him step on the revered block in Gold Coast’s Carrara Sports Arena, wearing a rarified expression of vain humility. He shook hands with South Africa’s Johannes Botha, the other finalist, and Canada’s Jevon Belfour, the bronze medallist, before affording a faint smile. No fist-pumps, no triumphant roars.
‘Pehelwanji’ has been here before: in 2010, in front of a thundering New Delhi crowd, and in Glasgow, when he proved that competing in the 74 kg category made no difference to the eventual outcome. However, despite the familiar air, this seemed different.
That Sushil clinched his third CWG gold on Thursday was hardly surprising. What is bound to evoke awe and admiration is the brutally lop-sided scoreline of his cumulative bouts. 35-0, it reads. One doesn’t need much guesswork to know that none among Jevon Belfour, Muhammad Asad Butt, Conor Evans, and Johannes Botha — all fine wrestlers themselves — could eke out a single point against the Indian. Not one point. This, against a man who has been part of a solitary international competition of note since winning the same medal four years back; who has been laid low by injuries to his shoulder and legs far too often; who has had more than his share of controversies in the lead-up to the event.
Not to forget, Sushil is eight years elder than the average age (26) of his opponents at Gold Coast. In a sport that relies as heavily on agility and reflexes as on raw power, that information is revealing. When Firstpost caught up with country’s most successful wrestler before the Games, he had allayed all skepticism regarding his fitness. “I participate in bouts only when I am completely fit. The injury is behind me and I am ready to do well at Commonwealth Games for India,” he had said.
Manish, his physiotherapist at Capital’s Chhatrasal Stadium, had told this writer that Sushil’s metabolic age is 18. Simply put, Sushil has the reflexes and energy of a teenager, and the muscle mass and power of a thoroughbred.
On Thursday, in the final against South Africa’s Botha — who he had earlier defeated in the Commonwealth Championships in 2017 — it took the 34-year-old all of 80 seconds to explain what his physio had meant. To put things in perspective, he had won the 2014 Commonwealth Games final against Pakistan’s Qamar Abbas in 107 seconds. Three of his four wins were on technical superiority, each secured with a 10-0 margin or more. Rarely has one seen an Indian wrestler dominating the mat in such manner. His coach and father-in-law, Satpal Singh, described his win as “shaandaar.” There could hardly be a better word to capture the essence of his excellence.
“He was too good in all aspects – attack, defence, power, technique, everything,” Satpal told Firstpost from Gold Coast.
The result was down to long hours of training Sushil had put in in the dank wrestling hall in the national capital. Day after day, the two-time Olympic medallist would pound away behind closed doors for over six hours, under the unwavering gaze of Satpal and Georgian coach Vladimir Mestvirishvili.
“For past one or one-and-a-half years, Sushil trained non-stop for 7-8 hours each day. All his efforts have bore fruit,” Satpal said. One doesn't see the trend bucking anytime soon, especially with Asian Games looming, and Tokyo Olympics just about two years away.
Sushil dedicated his win to the 27 children who died in a bus accident in Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh. He also, rather philosophically, delved into the importance of letting go of things. Responding to the controversies that have followed him for 18 months, he said, “I don’t hold on to old things because that day doesn’t come back. The medal I have won today won’t happen tomorrow. That was also a phase, this is also a phase.”
Sushil Kumar, who was brought to Satpal as a 25kg-teenager by his bus conductor-father 20 years ago, has grown into a world-beating wrestler, and India would hope that “this phase” of his continues for few more years.
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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 20:09:38 IST