While other wrestlers have decided to take time off from training on Sunday evening, Sushil Kumar is sweating it out on the mat. His hour-long session consists of a warm-up routine and then skill practice for 40 minutes. He is sparring with Harphool Gulia (61kg) and Satender (97kg). Before calling it a day, Sushil asks them when they will be leaving for Indore, the venue for the Senior National Wrestling Championships.
The two-time Olympic medallist has returned to competitive wrestling for the first time since his gold-winning effort at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and is now gearing up for the Senior Nationals,scheduled from November 15 to 18.
“Sunday, Monday ka farak nahi hai ab (The day of the week doesn’t make a difference). I have to train to beat fellow competitors. I have never underestimated my competition. Anyone who is wearing a singlet and is on the mat is as good as I am. You have to wrestle him. If I have to wrestle one guy, I will wrestle. It can be two, three or 10, I will wrestle. I don’t want to stop. It will be the same in Indore,” Sushil says.
The 34-year-old appeared for a trial for the Railways team in which he had two wrestlers to beat. Parveen Rana, his toughest competitor in Railways, did not turn up while Dinesh Kumar gave him a walkover. The same is expected in Indore, where wrestlers ready to fight Sushil will be hard to find. With Rana, who was once considered one of Sushil’s best trainees, out of competition, only Haryana wrestler Jitender poses a threat. But Sushil doesn’t think anyone could be taken lightly.
“I want to wrestle the best because I am ready,” he says. “People ask why I am beginning from Railways when I can directly go and play the Nationals, but I do not want any controversy this time. We need to wrestle the best in the country. One should never stop and the same is with me. I will wrestle the way I used to wrestle before. The new wrestlers are good but I believe in my ability.”
Just before the Rio Games last year, Sushil was at the centre of a controversy which saw him fighting a legal battle to earn a spot on India’s wrestling team to the Olympics. But he was denied as fellow 74kg wrestler Narsingh Yadav had won the quota to represent India. However, Narsingh later failed a dope test and no one represented India in 74kg at Rio.
This time around, Sushil has no favours to ask. A week ago, he was in Georgia for a camp when he was informed about the trials that will make him eligible to participate in the Nationals. He flew the same day and landed on Friday to participate.
“We were in Georgia for a camp and looked to work on aspects that we thought needed improvement. Here, he has sparred with most of the guys and we needed some different guys to train with,” Sushil’s longtime coach Vinod Kumar says. “Instead of focusing on the lower body where he is very strong, we tried to add strength in his upper body.”
Sushil last competed at a national event back in 2008, soon after becoming the first Indian wrestler to win an Olympic medal in 56 years. Nine years later, he will be competing as one of India’s greatest wrestlers. He has chosen the path that many would not have but that is what he wants. “There is no need for me to play inter-Railways or any national event, but this how the system works and I am a simple man. I’ll follow the system.”