Sushil Kumar, a superlative hero amidst a vacuum of mediocrity.
To achieve an Olympic medal in itself is an achievement. To defend it, leave alone exceed it, is even more so. Sushil Kumar, the defiant grappler from Sonepat, became the only Indian to accomplish the feat, the significance of which amplifies in the context of India’s inglorious tradition of continuing underachievement in the realm global sports.
India would return with their best-ever medal haul, but still be nowhere in the proximity of the sporting superpower parch. But Sushil certainly is; a superlative hero amidst a vacuum of mediocrity.
If Beijing was unprecedented, London was stupendous. If in Beijing he had the autonomy of an unknown, in London he had the thrusting weight of expectation of a swelling populace. That he responded to both, and in a sense defied them, in as arresting a fashion is a telling attestation to his pedigree, on an off the mat. And to believe that many reckoned Sushil jaded and distracted after his wedding looks ever more frivolous. Such lingering doubters abruptly vanished as Sushil flipped past his opponents, from a usual tentative start to gradually raising his level as the fixture climaxed.
And to believe that he attained the Olympic qualification only in his third attempt seems weirdly ironic; maybe Sushil’s own spooky prank. But his trusted friends and valued coaches swear by his work rate. “Hard work sets him apart from many of his peers. He is most uncompromising to himself and punishes his body like anything until he achieves the desired result,” observed his former coach Jagminder Singh.
Equally incredible is his mind-over-matter approach in big tournaments. “He first developed his shoulder problem in the Commonwealth and it was getting worse. A lot of us advised him to abstain from the event, but he was unmoved. He was adamant that he would fight and win gold for his country. And he did exactly that, wrestled through pain to win the gold, and he made it look so easy. His shoulder got worse and finally he missed important tournaments. But never did he repent,” Jagminder recounted. That the privilege to flag-bear the tri-colour was a spur-on for Sushil goes without saying. He took the onus of keeping the tri-colour flying on himself. He impatiently waited for his turn to deliver. And when the opportunity presented itself, Sushil clutched it tight, seldom easing his grip over it.