For a minute or so, nobody spoke or moved in the packed hall. All eyes were fixed on the small television, placed high on a wall, watching their idol Sushil Kumar trudge away after losing his gold-medal bout.
After spending a while in stunned silence, someone started to clap, perhaps realising that the silver was no mean feat either. As if waiting for the cue, other wrestlers joined in, and the Chhatrasaal Stadium, where Sushil trains, reverberated with applause and slogans. After shoving sweets down each other’s throats, the wrestlers broke into an ungainly but passionate dance, which, one of them said would continue till late into the night.
What shone through in this celebration is the love and respect the two-time Olympic medal winner commands amongst his peers. And that has as much to do with the person he is as with his exploits on the mat. “He’s still the same as he was before winning a medal in Beijing. If anything has changed, it’s his self-belief; otherwise he’s the same quiet and friendly person,” says Pradeep, his training and room partner.
The simple life
A peek into Sushil’s modest room affirms his partner’s words. He shares it with a couple of other wrestlers, like everyone else in the stadium. “Four of us stay in this room, and pehalwanji sleeps there,” said Tejinder, a room-mate, pointing to the four mats in the spacious room, which also boasts of an AC and fridge.
It is odd to see a champion wrestler share a room with others, but it is hardly a concern for Sushil. “He had shifted from the room, but came back after a while. He likes it here and feels it’s lucky for him,” he said.
Apart from humility, Sushil’s dedication too stands out. “He never misses practice. Even when he goes out to attend a wedding or function and returns late, he drags me to the mat for a practice session before hitting the bed,” says Pradeep.
Talking about focus, another of Sushil’s room-mate says he doesn’t allow anything to come between him and wrestling. “He was allowed to carry a mobile phone after Beijing. But he keeps it either switched off or on silent mode most of the time. He hardly takes any calls as he considers it a distraction.”
They are now planning to a grand welcome for their heroes. “Sushil and Yogeshwar (Dutt) have made us proud. Their exploits have revived wrestling and it will become more popular now,” said the coaches and trainees in unison.
“Wrestling should be declared our national game and we should get more facilities,” shouted someone from the group.Not a bad idea, given how hockey has fared in the last two decades!