It was perhaps his father's dream that made Yogeshwar Dutt fight like Hercules in the three back-to-back wrestling matches that eventually won him an Olympic bronze; or maybe his never-say-die spirit that kept him going even after receiving an injury above his right eye.
Though not many had expected India's new wrestling hero to come from the behind and win a bronze medal on Saturday, the 29-year-old wrestler always had it in him, say the residents of Bainswal, Dutt's native village in Sonepat. "It was bound to happen. Manish (as Dutt is known at his native village) was just eight-years-old, when he began wrestling and started going to an akhara (a wrestling coaching centre) in our village," says his younger brother Mukesh.
It was perhaps Dutt's promise of a gold medal to his mother that kept him going. "My son made me a commitment that he would not return empty handed. He wanted gold, I told him to get any of the three," Yogeshwar's mother Sushila Devi, who retired as a teacher, says.
The entire village had converged to Yogeshwar's house after news spread that he was about to fight for the bronze medal. "But we got worried when he got injured. I switched off the television," Devi adds. The tension was too much for her and she locked herself in a room.
It was Yogeshwar's uncle Satyanaryan who broke the good news to Devi.
The man who drove him
The road, however, was not a smooth one for Dutt. It was his father's encouragement drove Yogeshwar to pursue the sport. "It was my brother's dream to see Yogeshwar win an Olympic medal," the wrestler's uncle adds, as he tried to hold back his tears. "He died of a brain haemorrhage in 2006, nine days before Manish flew for the Asian Games that year."
In spite of the major setback, Yogeshwar won a bronze. "Right from the time Manish started, it was his father who would always wake him up for practice at 4am and take care of his diet," says Devi. A tear trickles down her left cheek as she adds: "Even when Yogeshwar was practicing in Delhi, his father would go there with five kilograms of milk, everyday. He had a lot of faith in his son and maybe that helped him win," she adds. "He has made his father's dream come true."
Back to the basics
Yogeshwar's first coach Satpal Singh says that it was the grappler's sincerity that made him win a bronze medal. "He used to be lean and thin and his mother was always worried about his health. It was his sincerity that made him better than others," he says.
He never stopped and kept practicing even after it was time to go home. "He never heard us and would keep practicing in the shade of a tree despite our repeated instructions," he adds. Satpal also credits the Haryana wrestlers victory to his undying courage. "No matter how the strong opponent, he never retreats. His fighting spirit won him the bronze and our hearts."
The residents of Bhainswala will accord a hero's welcome to their son. But, while everybody is going gung-ho over Manish, the wrestler is looking at a gold in the next Olympics. "I spoke to him for three hours on the phone. He wants to prepare for a gold medal at the Brazil Olympics," Yogeshwar's brother Mukesh says.
But his mother wants to get him married. "As soon as he returns, we will make him tie the knot," she says.
The village, meanwhile, has planned a hero's welcome for Manish. "Right from Indira Gandi International Airport to our village: He'll get a welcome the world will never forget," says Bainswal sarpanch Chand Ram.