Eight years after he last played at the World Championships, Sushil Kumar will be back on the big stage in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan from September 14-22. His priority is set too, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualification looming ahead.

At 36, Sushil may be slower on the mat, but he has no intention of slowing down. The double Olympic medallist is yet to finish on top of the podium at the summer Games and the desire to achieve the feat has led him to train with his own entourage, with a personal coach funded by wrestling federation sponsors Tata Motors, away from the national camp.

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He is currently under personal coach Malikov Kamal of Russia while India’s long-time former foreign coach Vladimir Mestvirishvili of Georgia and former national coach Vinod Kumar are also assisting him.

It was in 2010 that a 27-year-old Sushil became a world champion in 66kg, the only Indian wrestler to achieve the feat. Over the years, his training regimen has changed with the focus now on working on specific aspects of his game, following a high-intensity but low-volume routine, as opposed to the hours of daily work he is used to. Kamal, a former wrestler and coach who is five years younger to Sushil, also doubles up as his sparring partner.

“He has touched all those aspects of my wrestling which I need to strengthen. Like today I am off in the evening because I have done 45 minutes of intense, fast workout on my stamina in the morning. If he thinks I have to work on my legs, he will make me do that. If I had worked with such a coach and done such focused training before, I would have got better results,” he told Hindustan Times.

Sushil says he has never stopped learning.

“I will always remain a student. Wrestling is changing every day. From two-minutes per round, it is now three-minutes round. You have to be good in attack, defense, everything. Accuracy is very important. If that is not there, the moves will not work.”

Learning the tricks to dominate rivals from a younger wrestler is a non-issue in Sushil’s book.

“Anybody can teach you in life, even small kids, if you are willing to learn. There is a small boy Aman here (Chhatrasal Stadium), who is a world bronze (Cadet) medallist. He doesn’t have parents. There was nobody to look after him but he is still doing so much at this young age. I have learnt from him also.”

negative publicity

Sushil has also faced plenty of criticism in the last four years, be it his unsavoury face-off with Narsingh Yadav before the Rio Olympics or the controversies that have marked his national selection trials. Even this time at the time of trials for the World Championships, Sushil’s opponent Jitender and his coach accused him of using rough tactics.

“I am a very positive person. I have always done good to people. Why people criticise me I have no idea. I just tell myself if they think so, I can’t do anything about it. But I have never said bad things about anyone nor will I ever say. If you want to become famous with such small things then it is bad,” he said.

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But what makes him test the physical limits of his body, even after winning two Olympic medals?

“You have to be fit and you have to ask your heart, what you want to do. What does your will power say? For me the passion for wrestling has not diminished, so I want to learn all the nuances of wrestling.

“My wife has been a big support. She always tells me that ‘be on the mat till you want to be and I will back you’. I have a big family who are all very supportive. My wife looks after my twins which is a big responsibility.”

Sushil has not competed in major international events for some time. The 74kg wrestler played in the 2018 Asian Games where he lost the first round to Bahrain’s Adam Batirov. Since then he has trained in Georgia and then in Dagestan, Russia, from where his coach Kamal hails.

He returned to action after almost a year at the Medved International wrestling tournament at Minsk, Belarus, last month, winning two bouts before losing to Bekzod Abdurakhmonov. At the World Championships, Sushil says he wants to fight well and give his all.

“I have never gone to a tournament thinking that I want to win gold. My thinking has been that I need to put my 100 per cent of what I have trained. Only then you can fight with a free mind.”

Coach Vladimir says the goal would be to qualify for Tokyo Olympics. “Sushil is ready. This world championships is important to qualify, he can have the result in the Olympics.”

Sushil, he feels, is not bogged down by age. “There are examples of wrestlers winning Olympic medals in late 30s, even in their early 40s. Sushil is a fighter. He is going through very good training with new coach. He is very fast, and has very good reaction time. He will also fight for his name,” says Vladimir.

For someone who has seen Sushil for 16 years now, Vladimir uses a Hindi word to describe him. “He has a big ‘jigar.’ He wants a gold and he knows it is possible.”

First Published:
Aug 31, 2019 07:34 IST


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