Once inseparable, wrestlers Sushil and Yogeshwar now don’t see eye to eye
Together, they planted the Indian flag on the global wrestling map. But four years after accounting for two of India’s six medals at the London Olympics, the split is wide open between champions, Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt.
The most cherished friendship in wrestling has failed to survive the upheaval caused over double Olympic medallist Sushil’s failure in his bid to qualify for the Rio Olympics by forcing trials against Narsingh Yadav, who won the country’s quota place in the 74 kg freestyle category and was selected.
Sushil, who won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games and silver at London, and Yogeshwar, who claimed bronze in 2012, had been brothers-in-arms, and catalysts in infusing a new image to a sport of sweat, grime and little publicity.
The final nail in their estrangement was struck when Yogeshwar openly opposed trials for the 74kg division. It was a big blow to Sushil, who had relinquished his claim for a spot in the 65kg category in favour of Yogeshwar after the United World Wrestling had scrapped the 60 and 66 kg (Yogeshwar’s and Sushil’s original divisions) from its Olympics programme.
For Sushil, who won both his Olympic medals in 66kg, the easier option would have been to drop down to 65kg. But he chose to move up to 74 to avoid a confrontation with his friend.
Yogeshwar at first had privately objected, as it would have given rise to similar demands in other categories. But he then openly urged the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) not to heed to Sushil’s request.
That dealt a body blow to the frayed relationship. Yogeshwar agrees. “It is true our relationship is not like what it used to be,” he says. Asked why, he adds: “I have absolutely no idea.”
Yogeshwar insists his stand was correct, even when asked whether the WFI would have agreed to hold trials if he had backed his friend. “I stand for what is right. How can you or someone expect me to denounce a rule which I know I have benefitted from in the past? We went to three Olympics without a trial. Now why will I say the rule was wrong? Jo sach hai, sabke samne hai (the truth is before everyone)….I have nothing to hide or fear from.”
Despite attempts, Sushil or his father-in-law and mentor, Satpal, could not be reached for their response.
The two were thick friends, having started their career together as cadets under Satpal at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium. They were a pillar of strength to each other in trying times. When Yogeshwar agonisingly missed a medal in Beijing, Sushil stood by him.
The powerplay at Chhatrasal has also played its part in the falling out. When Amit Dhankar, Yogeshwar’s rival in 65 kg, petitioned the Delhi high court before the 2014 Commonwealth Games, it had an impact. The coaches tried to stay neutral as both were from the same akhada, but this is said to have upset Yogeshwar.
The next flare up happened last year when Bajrang Punia, a 2013 world championship medallist, left Chhatrasal saying Sushil had misbehaved with him. Bajrang is Yogeshwar’s understudy and joined him at the SAI centre in Sonepat.
It is like war now. Yogeshwar has refused to even acknowledge the help Satpal provided ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics when Kripashankar dragged the federation to court over not holding trials. “It’s a lie, he (Satpal) did not help me. It was in fact then WFI president, Mohinder Singh Malik, who backed me. Ultimately, the court ruled in my favour.”
There is no affinity with his former akhada either. “I am no more in Chhatrasal. I left it in 2009 when I was recruited by Haryana Police. Since then, I either stay in Madhuban (Haryana Police’s training academy) or here in Sonepat.”