The most vexing part of Sushil Kumar’s day was sitting in a dull, under-furnished room waiting for the nature’s call. He needed less than 10 minutes in aggregate to secure the gold medal, but for two hours after that, he sat in the dope-control room, waiting to submit his urine sample. When he finally emerged from the bowels of the Carrara Stadium, with his entourage in the tow, Sushil paraphrased the poet Sahir Ludhianvi. “Who bhi ek samay tha, yeh bhi ek samay hai,” he said, flashing a mischievous grin and holding aloft his gold medal.
Without really saying much, Sushil said it all. The 34-year-old wrestler did not need another Commonwealth Games medal to prove his worth or even assert his legacy — his two Olympic medals and a World Championship gold take care of that. But in the last two years, he has emerged as the single-most divisive figure in Indian wrestling.
He insisted he’d forgiven and forgotten. But in the wrestling fraternity, it was said in hushed voices that the Commonwealth Games would be his golden farewell.
Golden it was, but Sushil gave no indication a farewell. Instead, he dropped hints of competing at the Asian Games, but a member of his team said more ‘realistic assessment’ of his performance would be done once they’re back in Delhi.
The arena on the opening day for wrestling was only half-full, with Indians making up for a fair chunk in the crowd. Australia isn’t big on wrestling, and that was apparent with the lack of interest show, apart from the bouts that involved a local wrestler. But even the clueless Australian crowd was amazed at Sushil’s lightening speed and bull-like strength.
But as a coach put it, blindfold Sushil and leave him on the mat, and he will still beat the wrestlers from Commonwealth. It might smack of arrogance, but there was truth in the statement, as Sushil would prove on Thursday.
Sushil’s opened against Muhammad Asad Butt, a wrestler from Gujranwala. The city has a rich wrestling legacy and has produced several internationals for Pakistan. Butt’s career, however, never took off. The 27-year-old’s best result till take has been a bronze at the Commonwealth Championship, a tournament with a quality that is inferior to even some state-level competitions in India.
Yet, India coach Jagminder Singh confessed that Butt was the toughest candidate in Sushil’s draw. To be fair, Butt gave it all – he managed to conjure up half-a-chance to get hold of Sushil’s ankles and roll him over in the first period. But the Indian was too quick and anticipated the move, which helped him wriggle out of danger. Apart from that one move, Sushil had no trouble. Mid-way through the second round, the 34-year-old had secured the bout via technical superiority.
Next up for him was Australia’s Connor Evans. Originally a Brit, Evans launched an online crowd-funding campaign about a year ago for to prepare for the Commonwealth Games. As on Thursday, when the bout ended, he had zero contributions. While Sushil was applying finishing touches to his preparations in Georgia last month, Evans was figuring out ways to pay for his support staff.
Within two minutes of stepping on the mat, Sushil had pinned his opponent, thus winning by fall.
In the final, Sushil’s opponent was Johannes Botha, a South African national champion in the 74kg category. But Botha doesn’t boast of the tag as he is painfully aware of the gulf between him and the best from wrestling powerhouses. Botha isn’t even a full-time wrestler. The Polokwane resident wrestles for hobby, which he acquired 25 years ago. He is an aspiring boxer, though, and recently made his professional debut. “I won by knockout,” Botha said. For once, he was on the receiving end of a knockout. Sushil needed just 80 seconds to beat him and win the gold medal.
Three bouts, three wins, no points conceded and another Commonwealth Games gold medal pocketed. “When I am fit, I always fight like this,” Sushil said. “Else, I won’t compete at all.” But a bigger, real test for Sushil would be the Asian Games in Indonesia later this year, where wrestlers from powerhouses such as Iran, Japan and Uzbekistan will be competing.
Sushil remained non-committal on his participation in Jakarta, saying he’ll decide on it after returning to Delhi. Right now, he was tired – not from the bouts, but after a prolonged dope test procedure.