Mangled ears; sweat, dripping like a rivulet down his face; a soft groan every now and then, give you a hint of the pain he is enduring. All this to maximise power, flexibility, reflexes and to get a firm hold in place to rattle the best in the business.
Yet, after a hard day's work, he smiles and believes he can do it. Welcome to the world of Sushil Kumar, when he's not grappling for a piece of metal.
Mere words will never surmise the toil he and his fellow wrestlers undergo everyday. No one can comprehend the amount of time and energy an athlete spends training when he is not playing; because no one sees him train. It's behind-the-scenes that an athlete puts in the maximum sweat and blood, because the harder you train, the easier it gets to face opponents who are often bigger, stronger and given more opportunity.
More than 70 per cent of Olympic bronze medallist Sushil Kumar's life is spent behind-the-scenes in a place he calls his sacred space. The day begins at the break of dawn and ends at dusk. And the time in between is what makes him the wrestler he is. For Sushil, nothing else matters.
“I train hard and the results come,” says Sushil with a glint of excitement in his eyes. For him, training is as good as competition. “It's a world where I get my body to follow my mind. It's here where I make myself and prepare for the best and the worst — mentally as well as physically.”
At least six to eight hours are spent in training everyday. Now, Sonepat is home. There, Sushil has has access to one of the most sophisticated fitness centres and is one of the many wrestlers who are in the National camp.
He can lie down on a massage table as a masseur helps him out with recovery. He can consult a sports medicine specialist and his diet and training regimes are watched over by nutritionists and physios.
Not long ago, he was training in an akhara, where the equipment was primitive, wooden mace, iron dumbbells, wrestling in an arena that resembled a mud dungeon. But now, things have changed. He has access to some of the best facilities in the world and he thinks that should bring about a positive change in the sport.
“Things have changed since the Beijing Olympics,” says Sushil. “Earlier we used to train in akharas, but since the Olympics, we have been getting better facilities. We are getting help from the government. Now we have masseurs, physios and good coaches.”
A disciple of Hanuman, Sushil starts his training rituals with an invocation of the Gods. “I have faith in my god and that gives me the courage to beat all adversities,” he says with a shy smile.
After the Olympic bronze in Beijing in 2008, Sushil has started dreaming big. He may have missed out a medal at the World Championships last year, but in his heart is the belief that he can pull off one of his best performances at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October.
“I hope to do well,” he says. “Not just me, the entire team will perform well and I believe if we perform to our potential, we can end up with a lot of medals.”
The next time you see him on the mat grappling against an opponent think about the years of sweat Sushil Kumar has put in to become the champion that he is.
Born : May 26, 1983
Place of birth: New Delhi, India
Height: 5 ft 5 in
Style: Freestyle wrestling
Started from: Chhatrasal stadium
Bronze (2008 Beijing) in Men's Freestyle 66 kg
Commonwealth Wrestling Championship
2003, London (60 kg): Gold
2005, Cape Town (66kg): Gold
2007, London (66kg): Gold
2003, New Delhi (60kg): Bronze 2003
2008, Jeju Island (66kg: Bronze