Forced to move up to a heavier weight category, Sushil Kumar has his task cut out. Vinayak Padmadeo meets India’s best-known wrestler and takes a peek into his world
Sushil Kumar looks unlike his old self. Gone is the toned body with not an ounce of fat. Having been forced to move up to a higher weight category following the overhaul brought in by the sport’s governing body, FILA, Sushil looks a bit on the heavier side. He’s a little slow too. From a chiselled body mass of 66 kilograms, Sushil has now bulked to 75 kilograms — he will have to shed one kilogram in time for the Commonwealth Games.
The CWG will be the first major tournament for the double Olympic medallist following his silver-winning feat at the London Games. His only try-out in the new category before Glasgow came at the International Competition in Sassari, Italy. Here too, he won the silver.
“I was leading and could have won the gold. But because it was my first tournament in this weight category, I was keen to try out a few things. So, while attempting them, I got caught and lost. It is okay, that’s how you learn,” Sushil spoke casually about his first outing in two years.
The jump, he and his coaching staff say, was the only way forward after his category was dropped as FILA chopped and changed the format to suit the television audience as well as those in the stadium — as desired by the International Olympic Committee — for the sport’s survival in the Olympics.
Previously, the two-time Olympic medallist was always sweating it out to make the prescribed weight prior to tournaments. He had once famously failed to do so during the 2009 Asian Championship in Pattaya, Thailand, following which he was censured by the sports ministry. So, going down to the new weight category — 65kg — was a no-go zone from the start. The next best option for him was the 74kg category.
“I am confident that our wrestlers will make everyone proud. As for me, my preparations have been going on well. My challenges have increased. Most wrestlers from the 66kg, 70 and those in the 74 kg categories have now been clubbed together. Let’s see what happens,” Sushil said about this fresh start.
Strangely though, the man, who all his life had only known to control his weight, had to gain some and more before taking up serious training. “Doodh, ghee aur protein intake badana pada (had to increase my milk, butter and protein intake),” Sushil said.
While bracing up to challenges is nothing new for Sushil, this time he has something else to think about.
The 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea has the 70kg category in addition to the 74kg category, and Sushil will likely switch to the former a couple of months after fighting in the 74 kg in Glasgow.
Strangely, the organisers have left it to the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to nominate names in any of the seven categories of their liking. In Sushil’s case, since he is more comfortable fighting in the 70kg division, his name was entered in that weight category.
But the move defies logic since Sushil would be fighting to win a berth in Rio in the 74kg category.
The thinking behind the Asian Games decision has more to do with Sushil’s physical attributes and the country’s medal prospects. While he is expected to steamroll his opponents in Glasgow for gold, the competition in the 74kg category will be far greater in South Korea.
“All teams will field their players in categories where they will have a greater chance of winning medals. We are also doing the same. I don’t see anything wrong in it,” chief freestyle coach Vinod Kumar said, adding the standard of competition will be higher in the Asiad than at the Commonwealth Games.
Then there is the minor issue of scheduling. Within days of the Asian Games, the Indian wrestlers are scheduled to head to Kazan, Russia, for the all-important World Championships, which is a qualifying event for the 2016 Rio Olympics. And because the dates of the two events are so close to each other, there is a big possibility the Wrestling Federation of India may send two different teams to these two tournaments.
“The Asian Games is months away and I think it is too early to say whether switching weights may hinder his (Sushil) prospect or not. Commonwealth is the first priority,” said a coach who did not wished to be named.
But Sushil is ready to walk the extra mile. “I do what my coaches tell me to do. If they want me to fight in the 70 kg category, I will do that. It is all down to the decision of the federation officials and the coaching staff.”
In the two years, post the London-high, Sushil’s life has undergone a great deal of change, which he says is making him prepare for time after wrestling. Earlier this year, he has become a father to twins Suveer and Suvarn. He has also started taking his role as a deputy chief commercial manager in the Northern Railways very seriously.
“I can’t explain how happy my family and I were the day the boys were born. It was bigger than winning any of the Olympic medals. But the sad thing is I haven’t seen them in over a month.
“They are very naughty… they don’t allow my wife and I any time to rest. If one is sleeping the other cries. It is very difficult to try and catch some sleep,” Sushil smiled, as he recalled his domestic troubles.
But unlike his travails at home, Sushil has adapted well as one of the top officials in Northern Railways.
“I have to learn certain things here as well. After all, I will have to work in an office once I retire from active sport. I have been assigned ticketing and catering. What bothers me most is how people travel without tickets. I think they are doing a great disservice to the country. Besides, I am seeing to it that passengers get hygienic food while travelling. It is an important assignment that has been handed over to me,” Sushil said.
“Moreover, I am also looking after recruitment in the railways under the sports quota. Recently we have hired 68 sportspersons… Abhi bahut kam baki hai (lot of work is still left to be done),” he added.
With the country awaiting another heavy-duty performance, Sushil’s work seems to have only just started.