A week before the senior national wrestling championships, 21-year-old Sunil Kumar had just about recovered from dengue and begun training. He had been bed-ridden for more than a month and, at one point, even getting up and walking about was a herculean task.
However, not only did Sunil participate in the nationals, he also won the gold in the 87 kilogram Greco-Roman category on Sunday. After he completed a convincing 5-1 victory over Prabhal Singh, he posed for selfies with his coaches and other wrestlers. It was a moment of pure joy for the youngster who was itching to get back on the mat during his prolonged illness.
“I resumed training just a week back. I focused on my attack techniques and also how to withstand the hold positions. It is wonderful to win my third successive national title. This gold will give me a lot of confidence,” the Haryana wrestler, who is from Dabarpur village, Sonepat, said. In the semifinal, Sunil had scored a win by fall over Azamat Kustubayev of Kazakhstan.
Sunil took up the sport after a senior wrestler Hardeep adviced him to do so. He first trained at the RAI Sports School, Nidhani, before joining the Mehar Singh Dhaka Academy in Rohtak. His father, a dairy supplier, wanted him to be a wrestler but did not live to see his son make a mark as he passed away in 2010.
At the 2016 Asian Junior Championship in Chinese Taipei, Sunil won his first bronze at this level before following it up with two more at the editions in Delhi and Bangkok in 2017 and 2018 respectively. 2017 proved to be a breakthrough year for Sunil as he won the senior national title in the 85-kilogram category. Before he was down with dengue, earlier this year Sunil won a silver medal in Asian Senior Wrestling Championships in China.
“My father always wanted to be a wrestler. After his death, our family had to struggle and we had to give the farmland we owned on lease. But my mother Anita Devi supported me and my brothers,” Sunil said talking about his early struggles.
The silver at the Asian championships has given him the self-belief that he can win a quota for the Olympics. Though he lost in the first round of the World Championships held in September in Kazakhstan, Sunil believes he is wiser because of the experience.
At the Asian Qualifiers next year, Sunil will have a chance to seal a quota for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. National Greco-Roman coach Hargobind Singh believes that Sunil is in with a chance to make the trip to Tokyo. “Sunil’s main strength has been his stamina and endurance level apart from the ability to come out of strong holds. As he is a young wrestler, he has to improve his technique and we are working on his gripping techniques. He won the silver medal at the Asian Championships early this year and he has got a good chance to qualify for the Olympics. The top two wrestlers from Asia have qualified from the world championships and he can claim the quota on offer next year in the Asian qualifiers. We will work on the game plan for him,” Hargobind said.