For India, he's won a silver medal but as far as he could see, he just lost gold. Sushil Kumar was inconsolable after he went down to Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonematsu in his bid for gold. "I didn't come here to be second-best. I came here to win," he told HT later.
"Main reh gaya, accha nahi hua (I fell short. This is not good).
This being distraught at falling short of the pinnacle is seldom seen in Indian sportsmen at a stage as big as the Olympics. Sushil's attitude reflects a new way of thinking, a new mettle that hums the mindset of a nation that is fast breaking away from its chalta-hai (it'll do) attitude. Even our other medal winners, though far less put-off than Sushil, all expressed disappointment at not bettering what they had achieved. In a heartening sign, Indian sport is no longer content with just a touch of metal, our athletes want that touch hued golden.
Sushil walked into his bout with his face furiously focused. There was no smile, hardly any acknowledgement of the raucous Indian crowd. By the end of the first round, which he lost to a single point, Sushil appeared to be mad at himself, staring moodily into the distance. It was apparent that this man who was not just going through the motions. That this man was hungry to better the assured silver.
He lost the bout and stormed off, refusing to milk that silver by giving the assorted media their time. They did get him hours after the bout when the pressures of his hanger-ons did not allow him to actuate his plan to storm away and be alone with his remorse.
Hardly any joy
At the medal ceremony there was nary a smile, hardly any joy on Sushil's face. He bent down and paid obeisance to the podium before he mounted it and then proceeded to make a polite wave to the stands.
Wherever he spotted the Tri-colour, he nodded his acknowledgement but that was about it. He clapped when the Japanese got his medal, turned around and shook his hand to congratulate him and then looked ready to bolt. Except that the photographers had got no picture that fit the norm. So they asked him to bite that medal, to smile and to raise his arms.
Too nice a guy, he went through the charade like an automaton and the smile was more of a grimace.
Sushil's trainers reveal that he had had to use the lavatory six times before his fights — thrice between the first rounds and thrice during the break before gold. He had lost 1700 grams to make the weigh-in a day before the event. The subsequent loosies saw him dehydrated but Sushil did not make much of it, "Kuch pet kharab tha (stomach was a bit upset)" he would tell the press later. Excuses, obviously do not figure in this man's scheme of things.
This is the first athlete from the subcontinent — with the most teeming concentration of human beings anywhere in the world — to win two individual medals in back to back Olympics. But that immensely important landmark for a nation held limited appeal for the man as he again muttered, "thoda reh gaya (just fell short)" when he met HT later.
Sushil's hunger is a rare trait. This vein of thinking needs to be nurtured and cherished. It heralds a much-delayed new dawn in Indian sport.