This is one medal which was just not possible had it not been for the involvement of increasing corporate support in Indian sport.
Just a month after the Beijing Games Yogeshwar Dutt tore two of the three main ligaments that hold the knee together in a wrestling trials bout. He lost 70% of the stability in his left leg.
Back from the brink
Doctors in India told him that forget wrestling, he may well end up walking with a limp for the rest of his life. Forget limping, the man just strutted to a bronze. But none of this would have been possible had it not been for the support of the Mittal Champions Trust.
“We sent him to South Africa for knee reconstruction surgery by Dr Andrew Devlieg — the best in the business. He was there for eight months,” reveals Manisha Malhotra, the administrator of the Trust funded by steel magnate LN Mittal to help our athletes in getting that crucial extra edge that so often defines the line between medal and also-ran.
Dutt was unable to take to the mat for nearly 10 months after that. “Had it not been for Mittal, my career would have been over,” the bronze winner told HT a day after his achievement.
The diminutive Dutt talks straight and talks fast in a cut and dry tone that brooks little argument. When asked that wrestling had gained preeminence on account of Sushil and his medals, he shoots straight and hard: “Wrestling has always been India’s main sport since the times of the legendary Bhim. This is our traditional sport and we have a rich heritage to uphold. I feel privileged to carry on an ancient tradition.”
Not only do they continue an age-old tradition, they also believe in the age-old concept of Brahmacharya (celibacy) to be essential for their craft. When asked as to in this modern age doesn’t he feel brahmacharya may actually have him missing out on living a full life? That the world is moving on and he is stuck behind in the past. “What are you saying?” he positively bristles.
“We are actually ahead of everyone. We are brahmachari and we win medals, I don’t believe that just because we stay away from women, we lose out on anything. Nobody gets ahead in life just because there are women hanging around him, one gets ahead on account of one’s deeds.”
What about marriage? “I haven’t even looked at a woman, marriage bit I’ll figure when I get back home. The parents will sort all that out. My younger brother is married but I’ll carry on like this. Doesn’t bother me.”
As of now, anyway, he is not done with the sport and is far from being satisfied with the bronze.
“I will keep striving. The next Olympics are far and I am already 29, but there are other medals to be won for India before that.”
Dutt says that he and Sushil Kumar’s friendship has been pivotal in their evolution as wrestlers. “We have been together for 15-odd years now. We have always been good friends and learnt from each other. With our experience and intimate knowledge about each other we can instantly spot any errors which may creep into the other’s technique. We help each other all the time.”
Did he feel left out after Sushil got a medal in Beijing. “We were never competing against each other. We wrestle for the country, not to outdo each other,” he says with brutal frankness.
In his hour of glory, Dutt does not forget the backing he has got. “There has been a lot of support from a lot of people who have worked behind the scenes. The medals have come because of them.”
Before he leaves he still reminds this writer about India’s ancient connect with wrestling. “We have always considered wrestling to be India’s number one sport. After all, Bhim and warriors of yore practised this art,” he says sternly while rubbing his cauliflower ears.
After the showing at London no one dare disagree.