From being the son of a DTC bus conductor to becoming the first Indian sportsperson to win back-to-back medals at the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza -- the Olympic Games -- grappler Sushil Kumar has indeed come a long way.
Growing up in a non-descript village called Baprola on the outskirts of the national capital, the ever-modest Sushil today etched his name in history with his silver medal in the 66kg free style category, bettering the bronze he had clinched four summers ago in Beijing.
Sushil looked almost unstoppable till Japanese Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu halted his charge by getting the better of him 3-1 in the gold-medal contest.
Nevertheless, even the silver was enough for the 29-year-old to record his name in annals of Indian sports.
If the bronze in the Chinese capital awakened the country to Sushil’s potential, the white metal reaffirmed his status as one of the best in the business.
The bronze in Beijing woke up millions of Indians to this stockily built man who transformed the ‘badmashon ka khel’ with its ‘dhobi-pachad’ into a well-respected game.
Sushil was inspired to take up the sport by his cousin Sandeep. However, Sandeep quit the sport because the family could support just one wrestler and Sushil was the chosen one.
It was a decision that the family would not have to regret now. A silver and bronze medal in Olympics, world championship gold and a CWG gold medal on home soil in Delhi two years ago, Sushil has justified the faith of not just his family but the entire nation.
From the Akharas of the Chhatrasal stadium here to the podiums of the Olympics, not once but twice, in London and in Beijing, the Jat hero has shown that the hinterlands of the country still breed champions.
Sushil came into prominence after winning the World Cadet Games in Poland in 1998. This was soon followed by the Asian Junior Wrestling Championship in 2000 and the Arjuna Award in 2007.
He became a household name by coming out of nowhere and landing India a bronze at the Beijing Games. It was a testament to his mettle that he was given the chance to be the coveted flag-bearer of the Indian contingent at the opening ceremony of the London Games.
From training in mud pits to sleeping with 20 other boys, it was a giant leap for the grappler.
He started training at the Chhatrasal Stadium’s akhada under the guidance of pehalwans Yashvir and Ramphal and later by Arjuna awardee Mahabali Satpal Singh and then at the Railways camp by coach Gyan Singh.
Sushil credits his ‘father figure’ Satpal, under whom he has trained for 13 years, as someone who has inculcated in him discipline and dedication.
Sushil created history when he became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the FILA 2010 World Wrestling Championships held in Moscow on September 12, 2010.
Sushil struggled with a series of injuries in the past year and disappointments in various international events. He finally qualified for the London Games when he outclassed 2008 Beijing Olympic bronze medallist Tushishvili Otar 3-0 on his way to a gold medal at the World qualifying tournament in Taiyuan (China) in April 2012.
For the bronze medal at 2008 Beijing Olympics, Sushil was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour.
Four years ago, he changed the face of wrestling in the country and today he has made India a force to reckon with in the game of wrestling.