‘It’s the responsibility of every Indian athlete to stay away from drugs’
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‘It’s the responsibility of every Indian athlete to stay away from drugs’

Sushil Kumar who just made history by winning gold at the World Wrestling Championship, shares his success mantra.

entertainment Updated: Sep 14, 2010 13:01 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Roshmila Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times

He admits that life has changed since he won the bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. “Now, whenever I prepare for a tournament, I always aim for the gold medal,” says Sushil Kumar, who last Sunday became the first Indian to bag a gold at the World Wrestling Championship.

In three weeks, Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and as brand ambassador of the CWG, Sushil Kumar has his fingers firmly crossed. “Delhi is my fave venue. This is where I started my career, where I won my first honours. I’m looking forward to playing before a home crowd,” he asserts, satisfied with his preparations. “It’s very important for me as well as our government that I win a gold medal in India’s capital city. I promise I’ll give it my best shot.”

No complaints
Sportsmen across the country have several grouses against their associations and the facilities on offer. Quiz the country’s No 1 wrestler on his litany of complaints and he shrugs philosophically, “I have had my share of problems too but I’ve never let them get the upper hand. Highs and lows are a part of life. They make you a stronger person. The more you struggle, the stronger you become.”

He insists that he’s always optimistic and never takes stress. “I just concentrate on my opponent, watch his bouts to get a grip on his game before a match, and between bouts, follow the cooling down and relaxation techniques prescribed by the team’s physiotherapist,” he informs. “Don’t worry, stay happy — that’s my motto.”

But there was a time when he had problems with his weight and once was even disqualified from the Asian Championships at Pattaya because he was overweight. “That’s a sad memory,” he sighs. “Decreasing one’s weight is never easy but now I have full control.”

Aiming for gold
Recently, four wrestlers failed the dope test, including Rajiv Tomar, this year’s Arjuna awardee and one of India’s strongest gold medal prospects. What’s his take on the headline-grabbing controversy? “All I can say is that it’s the responsibility of every Indian athlete to stay away from drugs. We are all aiming for gold and we can only achieve our goal through hard work and the right attitude, not drugs,” he insists.

The internal wrangling within the Wrestling Federation of India has kept our wrestlers away from many international events, including the last CWG in Melbourne in 2006. How big a loss was that? Is money an issue with men wrestlers too, as with the ladies?

“The Federation has always helped me. I have had the support of my fellow wrestlers as well as the higher authorities. My employer, Railways, has also been very supportive,” Sushil Kumar says diplomatically.

So he’s never thought of quitting the sport or regretted his decision to take up wrestling? “Never!” he exclaims. “Why would I ever think of quitting? The overwhelming love of my fans and the support of my family have kept me going.”

He says his guru Padamshree Mahabali Satpalji and his grandfather inspire him. Since the first day he took up the sport, friends, Pradeep and Sumit, and younger brother, Amarjeet, have been by his side, adjusting their lives to his schedule through the long journey. “I’m truly blessed to have a family like mine. They may have been short in funds but they were never short in their faith in me,” he says emotionally.

Sushil Kumar brought wrestling into the spotlight with the Olympic medal, followed by the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, a first for any wrestler. He beams, “I’m fortunate to have bagged the biggest sporting award in the country. It’s put wrestling on par with high profile sports like cricket and tennis. I hope I can use my celebrity status to bag modelling assignments that can take the sport into people’s living rooms. I’d be really happy if someone were to make a movie on ‘kushti’ some day.”

Ah, so it’s not only Virender Shewag who revels in media attention. One assumed that the other Nawab of Najafgarh shied away from the spotlight but obviously that’s not quite true? “You think I’m a shy guy?” he chuckles. “I’m not but I’m so busy with my practice sessions that there’s never time for anything else. Wrestling is not only a game for me; it’s my passion and my life.”

A day in his life
5.30 am: Wake-up and my first thought is of God.
6.30 am: Start training at the SAI Center in Sonepat.
10.30 am: Training over, return to room for badam drink and protein shake
11.00 am: Brunch of rotis and veggies, chat with other wrestlers at SAI centre
2.00 pm: Siesta
5.20 pm: Alarm goes up, wake-up time for all wrestlers.
5.30 pm: Training session
7.30 pm: Return to room, watch TV
9.30 pm: Goodnight

Rapid fire
A film to watch...
Chak De! India... and 3 Idiots.

Fave actress?
Katrina Kaif, she’s beautiful!

An actor who can play Sushil Kumar in a film?
Probably Dharmendra or Dara Singh.

If not a wrestler, you’d have been a…
Since I enjoy watching and playing football, maybe a soccer player.

Fave holiday spot?
I love the serenity of Haridwar.

You never leave home without...
A Hanuman moorti, it gives me strength.

A must-have food item everyday....
Desi ghee ke paranthe.

A dish you loathe?
Bhindi ki sabzi.

You hate…
People who don’t respect others.

A telly show you never miss...
WWE matches… And the soap Laado on Colors.

You are terrified of...
Stepping out during the rains, I love sunny days.

What makes you angry?
I don’t like people disturbing me during my training sessions.

To become a champion wrestler...
Skills, hard work, devotion, focus

Practice about 10 hours a day

Where to learn
Chhatrasal Stadium in Model Town, Delhi, is the best in India.

Energy drink, badam milk

Good after you have established yourself

First Published: Sep 14, 2010 12:53 IST