Sport in the 21st century has evolved into a scientific mesh. Each tendon of muscle and tendril of thought is monitored, tweaked and nudged towards forming a whole which is best suited to be hued Olympic golden.
However, in the midst of all the chatter about precise training mechanisms based on individual physiology, there’s a world-beater (2010 world championship gold winner) who finds solace in a thought process that is so ancient that its roots are lost in the hoary past.
Sushil Kumar, India’s wrestling bronze medallist at Beijing, believes in daily massages with mustard oil, a vegetarian diet with loads of almonds and a langot (strip of cloth) to gird his loins.
He who pummels beefy men into submission, was however quite worried about something as simple as carrying a flag. “Bhai, I was told it’s quite an ask to handle the flag for a long time. I was a bit concerned for I didn’t want to mess up,” says Sushil as he fiddles with his luggage en route to the airport on his way back to Belarus. The freestyle 66kg wrestler prefers to train in that nation away from the bustle and buzz of the Games. He will be back in London just prior to his competition on August 12.
A rare gem
Before he says anything else, the 29-year-old first offers an apology for not keeping a prior appointment. Being humble is a rarity amongst Olympic medal winners, genuine humility rarer.
“Have been focused on training and sleeping non-stop since I got into the city two days ago. It’s a long haul from India,” he grins. Was the opening ceremony tiring and worth the effort of a special trip? “It was amazing, forget tiring, it has been an incredible boost for me and immensely motivating,” he grins with his eyes crinkling in amusement.
On a day when medal hopes in men’s archery collapsed, it’s fitting to ask another hope if the expectations after Beijing make things tougher for him. “Naa,” he says in his hardcore Haryanavi accent, “all we can do is practise hard and I have prepared even better than Beijing. Those Games were my first in 66kg, now I have been competing in that category for nearly seven years and am familiar with all the contenders.”
Many an athlete is satisfied with a medal and the subsequent accolades. But that’s not for him. “Winning is addictive. I am confident but success is a combination of many factors which need to come together at that particular moment,” he says philosophically.
Some things, however, have changed since Beijing. He now has a Facebook account and a Dell laptop on which he watches bouts of his opponents. The man who has never tasted alcohol has also added dietary supplements to his regime. However, desi ghee stays an essential component of his diet. Fame forced Sushil to hire a tutor to school him in English but his favourite form of relaxation is still listening to ragini folk music from Haryana.
It’s not something he likes to discuss, but it’s a well-known fact that in an age where sex is considered a healthy tool for a sportsman to relax and is a normal part of their lives, Sushil practises abstinence.
“It’s the old brahmachari (celibate) tradition in Indian wrestling. Pehalwanji has not even gone home to see his wife since he qualified for the Olympics in April,” says a member of the support staff.
In the swirl of the modern, Sushil stays anchored in ancient basics. It’s worked for him at Beijing so why change things for London?