The poster boy of Indian wrestling, Sushil Kumar, added another first to his name on Sunday. After becoming the first Indian grappler to clinch an Olympic medal, he also became the first to win a World Championship title.
Even as the other Indians bit the dust, the grappler from Najafgarh came out triumphant in Moscow, proving that the Beijing Olympics bronze was not a fluke.
Now, the world champion is aiming for the top position at the Commonwealth Games and hoping that his exploits would popularise the sport in the country.
HT caught up with the hero and his coach Yashvir.
How do you rate your World Championship achievement?
It’s like a dream come true. I am happy that I gave the country this proud moment. For the last couple of months, I had been training hard for the Championship and it's a mission accomplished for my coaches and me.
Was there any pressure on you going into the quarterfinal bout against the Mongolian wrestler against whom you had lost earlier?
It was not the first time I was competing on the big stage, so there was no pressure. The moment I started winning, I started feeling comfortable. I had earlier lost to the Mongolian wrestler but I knew his strengths and weaknesses, so I didn't have difficulty in beating him. Before making it to the final, I had won four bouts, so my confidence was high. I was sure gold would be mine if I accurately executed what I'd learnt during training.
Yashvir: Even before the gold at the Worlds, Sushil was considered among the world's top wrestlers in his category. So, whenever two top opponents face off, the pressure is on both sides. We were not worried about the final bout and knew Sushil would win gold.
Rather, we were worried about the semifinal as the wrestler from Azerbaijan was a tough nut. Sushil had to really fight hard to win against him. The Azerbaijan grappler was any day better than the Russian whom Sushil faced in the final.
Which is your bigger achievement — the Olympic bronze or the World Championship gold?
Both have their significance. You cannot compare the two. For me, both the medals are equally precious and I have worked really hard to win them..
You missed the medal at the last World Championship, so was there any change in your training schedule this time?
Whenever we go for major tournaments, we undergo specific training. Before the World Championship, we had more mat practice. You can't say I practiced harder this time …. it was my hard luck that I missed the medal last year..
My immediate target is to win gold in the Commonwealth Games. After that, my focus will be on the Asian Games, next year's World Championship and obviously my ultimate aim is to win gold in the London Olympics.
Do you see wrestling growing in India after your World Championship exploits?
After my Beijing medal, a lot of people started taking interest in the sport. Earlier, it was confined to the rural areas but now people in the metros too are following it. After the Olympics, money has started pouring into the sport and now the world title will surely bring more sponsors to the sport.
During last year's Asian Championship, you drew a lot of criticism for missing the bout because you were overweight. Critics said you did it intentionally as you were afraid of losing?
A sportsperson will never miss a bout intentionally. Somehow, I didn't get the weight right at the time of weigh-in and got disqualified. It was not the first time I missed the bout because of being overweight. During the 2004 Asian Championship, I was unable to compete because of being overweight. But nobody noticed it or questioned my intention. Then why after the Olympic medal? With the world title I have proved that I am not afraid of taking on any wrestler in the world.