India's wrestling hope Yogeshwar Dutt, who narrowly missed an Olympic medal in Beijing four years ago, says it is "now or never" for him at the London Games.
According to Yogeshwar, the pressure of expectations is high as he gets bout-fit to take on a strong field in the 60 kg freestyle in his third Olympics, more so after his childhood buddy Sushil Kumar won the bronze at Beijing.
"Well, I won't say there is no pressure. In fact, there is immense pressure on all the wrestlers, but then we can perform better when there is pressure. I feel the pressure acts more as inspiration. To be honest, when we step on the mat, pressure vanishes," Yogeshwar, who is training at the SAI centre in Sonepat, told IANS in a telephone interview.
Yogeshwar hastened to add that he is not weighed down by the expectations -- he is only getting inspired.
Indian wrestlers, he said, now eye only gold at the Olympics, not just a medal.
"Earlier for us winning a medal at the Olympics was a big thing. But now we aim only for gold, there has been a huge change in the mindset."
In the last four years, he has had a tough run. After the heartbreak in Beijing, he had to undergo two career-threatening knee surgeries in 2009. All these setbacks, he said, made his resolve to get back stronger.
Gold medals in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2012 Asian Championships have only reinforced Yogeshwar's belief that he is destined for better things in London. The Olympics are being held from July 27 to Aug 12.
"I was apprehensive after the surgery; it was a horrifying experience. But I always had the belief in my ability to turn things around. By the grace of God I am fully fit and in perfect shape," said Yogeshwar, who idolises legendary Russian wrestler and three-time Olympic champion Buvaisar Saitiev, popularly called the Silent Gladiator.
Yogeshwar has been watching videos of Saitiev and Aleksandr Karelin, also a three-time Olympic champion, to pick up a few tricks.
"I have grown up watching Saitiev and Karelin. They make wrestling look so simple. They were famous for their sudden moves and quickness. In modern wrestling, surprise element and speed are very important. I hope I can pick up a thing or two from their videos," he said.
A life-size poster of Yogeshwar is up on the wall at the Sonepat gymnasium alongside one of good friend and akhada-mate Sushil, a testimony to his enormous popularity in his hometown.
The Sonepat boy, who won a bronze in the 2006 Asian Games, said experience of the 2004 (Athens) and 2008 made him a mature wrestler and he sees London as his best chance to win a medal.
"I still remember my first Olympics in Athens. I was 21 and for me qualifying for the Games was a big achievement in itself. I was young and the momentous occasion got the better of me.
"Four years later at Beijing, I realised Indian wrestlers can win medals. When I lost in the quarters, I was devastated. Now, I am confident and see Indians winning two-three medals in London," he said.
Sushil's medal in Beijing has inspired him to win a medal at the July 27-Aug 12 event.
"We have been together right from the age of 15. We have grown up watching each other. It was his medal at Beijing that made me realise that I can also win an Olympic medal. Nothing is impossible. The last four years I have worked hard on all the aspects of my wrestling," he said.
Yogeshwar said an occasional bout with Sushil during training sessions made him stronger.
"I am in 60 kg and he is 66 kg and that helps me. Fighting against a wrestler who is in a higher weight category is always beneficial. We analyse each other's strengths and weaknesses and share notes."
He said he has worked hard on his ground wrestling skills and counterattack.
"Wrestling has become fast-paced. Today more points are scored from quick counter- attacks. I have also improved in my ground fighting skills. I have worked on off-the- ground (standing position) techniques."
He is looking forward to training stints at the US Olympic Centre in Colorado Springs and Stayki Wrestling Complex, in Minsk, Belarus.
"These camps are very important. They will help us fine tune our techniques one last time ahead of the Olympics. Colorado Springs and Minsk have one of the best training facilities for wrestlers and I am confident the experience will stand in good stead," he said.