Success Doesn't Come Easy
Sushil Kumar – the 31-year-old wrestler – is shy, polite, and humble but ruthless in a match against his opponents. He also won a gold medal in the 66 kg freestyle competition at the FILA 2010 World Wrestling Championship, and a silver medal in the men’s 66 kg freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics. Kumar won a gold medal in the 74 kg men’s freestyle in 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow also. He is the first Indian to win back individual Olympics <g data-gr-id="310">medals,</g> and is all set to change the colour of his medal once again in the upcoming Rio Olympics. Evidently, the modest champion is working towards his goal <g data-gr-id="260">round</g> the clock amid <g data-gr-id="309">lot</g> of unspoken tales. Edited excerpts:
How did you start wrestling?
Our family has <g data-gr-id="315">number</g> of wrestlers including my father and uncle. Later my cousin Sandeep, who is elder than me, also became a wrestler. Inspired by Sandeep, I had decided to become a wrestler too. However, after some time Sandeep had to quit the sport due to financial issues and I was motivated to carry forward with wrestling as a profession. Sandeep sacrificed his <g data-gr-id="256">carrier</g> but motivated me to do well. Without the help of my <g data-gr-id="313">family</g> I could not have achieved these milestones.
Tell us something about your grooming-days?
It all started at the Chhatrasal Stadium’s <g data-gr-id="257">akhada</g> (ring)at the age of 14. The <g data-gr-id="258">akhada</g> was run by Indian <g data-gr-id="259">pehlwans</g> (wrestlers) Yashvir and Ramphal, and later by Arjuna awardee Satpal and at the Railways camp by Coach Gyan Singh. I endured tough training conditions which included sharing a mattress with a fellow wrestler and sharing a dormitory with 20 others. Later at the age of 18, I became <g data-gr-id="289">state</g> champ.
When did you taste your first success?
It was in the year 1994 when I won a national level school championship. You will be surprised that I was not aware of the importance of the title, however, I knew that I had done something special as my coaches were delighted and they were praising me for my success.
What were the difficulties you faced earlier in your <g data-gr-id="255">carrier</g>?
I belong to a lower <g data-gr-id="318">middle class</g> family and my family had to work hard to ensure my daily diet and expenses, which is the basic need for any sports person to maintain his fitness. <g data-gr-id="317">Everyday</g> my father had to come from Najafgarh to Chhatrasal Stadium on his bicycle to give the food for me. Even though my family had to face a tough time, they never let me <g data-gr-id="316">to face</g> any difficulty and asked me to concentrate only on my wrestling.
When did you realise that you can be a world beater and can win the Olympics and world championships?
It was in 1998 when I won the gold at World Cadet Games in Poland. I realised that I can be the world beater. There were many good wrestlers and when I defeated many of them I realised that winning medals in Olympics and world championships is not a difficult task.
Did you ever think about hanging your boots earlier due to any disappointment?
Yes, I was disappointed during the Doha Asian games where I could not win the gold despite being in good form. I <g data-gr-id="279">was dishearten</g>, shattered, and lost all my hopes. But luckily this was a short-term phase and my coaches, friends and family helped me come out from that and motivated me to win more medals for the country.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes, it would have been great if my grandfather could see me win a bronze medal in the Beijing Olympic. Unfortunately, he passed away just three <g data-gr-id="312">month</g> before I won the medal. I still remember when I came to meet him after hearing that he was seriously ill. I was surprised when he saw me and said that I should not have come here as this was a crucial time for me to prepare for the Olympic event. He blessed me and told me that I am going win the medal in Beijing Olympic. With his <g data-gr-id="311">blessings</g> I won the medal. I would have been delighted if he had seen my success.
What is your success mantra?
There are no shortcuts to success. One has to be focused, determined and eager to learn. One has to be disciplined to achieve his target. I never try to run away from practice and always follow the coaches’ instructions. I always maintain my fitness. I also try to read the strengths of my opponents as to how they fight. You should know about your opponents and respect them well. If you take them lightly you may lose the game. This is what I believe is my way to get success.
You are known to be a “shy guy” of Indian sports, people say that you are simple and success has made you more humble. What would you like to say about this?
Success brings more responsibility. People give me respect and love and in return I do the same. They treat me like a star, what else do I need. But if I misbehave with them or talk rudely, then I will lose their love and affection which I don’t want. People love me, their support boosts my morale and it helps me perform better.
How do you motivate your junior wrestlers?
Our recent success in the Olympic, Asian games, Commonwealth games and world championship have given them a boost that we are also world beaters, and can win the medals for the country. Our guru Satpal ji and other coaches also guide us to do better. I share my experiences with them and teach them new techniques of wrestling.
You have achieved success and you can live a luxurious life like other sports personalities, but you maintain a low profile and lead a simple life, any reason?
I do not forget my roots and don’t let success get to my head. I know that youth, <g data-gr-id="304">specially</g> young wrestlers who follow me, treat me like an icon. It gives me a sense of responsibility to be more dedicated to wrestling. So I don’t prefer to be in the limelight. I believe that if I keep <g data-gr-id="301">low</g> profile and avoid glamour, I can give more time to practice and that will help me win a gold in Rio Olympics.
Tell us something about your diet, how much does it cost?
I am vegetarian and my diet includes three <g data-gr-id="296">kilogram</g> of fresh milk and a bowl of white butter <g data-gr-id="298">everyday</g>, 10 to 15 kg of almonds a month, apart from regular food. The monthly expense on training and diet is between Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000. Earlier, my family made sure to fulfil my dietary requirements. My father used to carry on his bicycle milk and butter for me every morning. The daily routine still continues, the only difference is that the bicycle is now replaced by a car.
Your father still works. Don’t you ask him to rest now?
<g data-gr-id="307">Yes</g> I did but he simply refused and said, “you should focus on your wrestling and let me do my work,” he is <g data-gr-id="306">simple</g> man. He is now nurturing a 17-year-old athlete who recently won a medal in Asian championship. My father is supporting him in all possible ways. This is his way to live life.
To whom do you credit your success?
It is my family and I am especially thankful to my guru Satpalji. I also wish to thank my support staff who have worked hard behind the scenes. My success is dedicated to all those well-wishers who never gave up on me. My dream will be fulfilled if I bag a gold medal which I promised to my loved ones across the country in the upcoming 2016 Olympics.