At 36, Sushil Kumar is one of the oldest wrestlers to vie for a spot in the Tokyo Olympics. The two-time Olympic medallist will give it another try in the men’s freestyle 74kg against a clutch of top wrestlers who are younger to him.
Sushil, who won bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a silver in London four years later in 66kg, is driven by his hunger. “I am eyeing the medal that is absent — the third one, the gold,” Sushil told The Hindu after a gruelling training session in preparation for the World championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, in September.
Sushil’s feud with Narsingh Yadav over the 74kg ticket to the Rio Olympics four years ago may have been a bitter episode in the history of Indian wrestling, but the former World champion has not been flustered in chasing his ambition.
“The morning happens after every night. On the road, we find the red-light signal, speed-breakers and traffic-jams but we move on overcoming every hurdle. Like that, life goes on,” was Sushil’s philosophical take on how he managed to forget the unpleasant episode and re-focus on his target.
Instead of evading the National selection trials, this time he went through it and emerged as the rightful claimant to compete in the World championships — an Olympic qualifying event.
“Inside the country, I manage to get the better of others. But every opponent poses a different challenge and no one can be taken lightly.”
The top-six finishers in each Olympic weight in Nur-Sultan will earn a place in the 2020 Games. Needless to say, Sushil, who clinched his third gold in the Commonwealth Games before crashing out of the Asian Games last year, is primarily aiming for a Tokyo berth.
“I have to give my 100%,” Sushil said.
His journey is expected to be tough, considering that 74kg is packed with the best, including Olympic medallist and two-time World champion Frank Chamizo Marquez, former Olympic and multiple World champion Jordan Burroughs, current World title holder Zaurbek Sidakov and silver medallist Avtandil Kentchadze and two-time Asian Games champion Bekzod Abdurakhmonov.
Sushil is toughening himself under the guidance of Russian coach Kamal Malikov, who was roped in by Tata Motors in April after getting a go-ahead from the Wrestling Federation of India.
“I am a student and I am trying to learn and improve. I thank Tata Motors for providing me this coach, who has been working on my attack, defence and other areas of the game.”
Sushil thanked his better half for her support. “I must thank my wife (Savi), who takes care of the children and other responsibilities so that I can focus on my target,” he signed off.