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Grappling with ghosts

india Updated: Nov 02, 2010 23:00 IST

Hindustan Times
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Sport psychologists say that super athletes excel in crunch situations because they know how to defeat ghosts in their minds. So along with making athletes physically fit, they also work on their mental training. But for Indian wrestler and Commonwealth Games gold medallist (96 kg, Greco Roman) Anil Kumar, such mental strengthening processes seem to have happened automatically, without even coming within sniffing distance of a mind trainer. Also he seems to be the only athlete in the world to have practised under the watchful gaze of a coach as well as inhabitants of the nether world, the real dudes, not the perceived ones. According to Kumar, his dad, who also happens to be his chief mentor and trainer, had to close down their akhara after an anti-encroachment drive found it to be illegal. Since they could not afford an upmarket area in this land-starved country, they settled for a peaceful location next to a crematorium. "We used to grapple with ghosts,” the now famous Haryana boy told reporters. So along with rolling on the dusty ground, the wrestlers also had to fight clouds of ash and the putrid smell from the crematorium. However, post the sweet smell of success, all this has become more anecdotal than any reason for serious anger.

Indian sportsmen are known to grapple with many issues on their path to glory. We have heard about athletes running and hockey players playing without requisite footwear, players staying in appalling hostels and being asked to double up as tea boys/girls and even cyclists being asked to pay for their foreign-equipment. But never have we, even us cynical editorial writers, ever heard of such an exceptional situation!

What is more ironic is that the number of students at the akhara, yes, the one near the crematorium, is actually going up. Is it Kumar's win or the hope of some otherworldly charm that has enthused them to take up this sport?