A retired American Olympic wrestler named Dan Gable once said – “The 1st period is won by the best technician. The 2nd period is won by the kid in the best shape. The 3rd period is won by the kid with the biggest heart”. The ‘big heart’ that Gable talked about epitomises two of India’s biggest Wrestling heroes – Sushi Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt. The one thing that unites them apart from their grappling abilities is the land they belong to – Haryana – the cradle of Indian wrestling.
With just six months to go for the quadrennial event, India’s hopes of Olympic glory rests with the grappling heroes from Haryana - mainly the Olympic medallists Sushi Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt. Rio will be the last Olympics for both these veterans as they enter the twilight of their wonderful wrestling careers. Illustrious grappling stories and tales of hardships will fill their career timelines, timelines which will become legends in a few years, and London 2012 will be at the top of those stories.
Heading to London, everybody knew Sushil Kumar; he was the poster boy of Indian wrestling. With an Olympic medal already in the cabinet, he led the Indian contingent with the Indian tri-colour flying high in his hand.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Sushil Kumar seemed unfathomable at one point absolutely dominating his opponents, marauding his way forward after finally losing out to Japan's Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu and had to settle for a silver medal in the end. One of the major highlights of his famous journey was when he faced Akzhurek Tanatarov of Kazakhstan in the semifinals. Sushil Kumar came from behind, and in fact, drew blood out of the opponent to secure his place in the final. It was all fairly legal and played the right way. However, that one incident showed Sushil's courage & persona as a man ready to give his all for the country and defy odds whenever necessary. He also became the first Indian to win back-to-back individual Olympic medals.
Yogeshwar's 2012 Olympics story is another fascinating one. He got into the pre-quarterfinals after going through a tight contest in the qualification round against Anatolie Guidea of Bulgaria. His Olympic dream almost ended in the next round after losing Russian B Kudukhov 1-0, 2-0. With the Russian making his way into the final, a glimmer of hope opened in the horizon for the Haryana lad to grapple towards an Olympic medal.
The repechage rounds, which helped Sushil grab the bronze in 2008 Olympics, also welcomed Yogeshwar with both hands and took him to the bronze medal play-off after registering consecutive wins. At the final hurdle, the lad from Sonepat in Haryana did not look the best technician on the mat nor was he the best in shape, but he had something which his North Korean opponent did not have – ‘the big heart’ – a heart which never let him go down against his opponent with the clock ticking down towards the defeat and with a swollen right eye. After going down in the first round, the Indian grappler pulled his way back into the bout and finally finished off the bout by wrapping Ri Jong Myong's legs and turning him, again and again, to write his name in the country’s history books.
With Olympic medals, the duo bulked up and moved up in the weight category to secure their places at the next Olympics. Weight category never raised any issues for the grappling duo as they won the yellow metal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
But, injuries also arrived on the scene to hamper all the jubilations. Fighting pain, Yogeshwar also led India to gold in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, when injuries ruled out Sushil.
As December 2015 arrived, the sport of Wrestling in India went from mud and dirt to convention centres and five-star hotels with Pro Wrestling League (PWL) making every wrestler a household name. Sushil Kumar once again missed out on the spectacle with injury side-lining him to guest appearances. However, Yogeshwar Dutt starred in the group stages for his team Haryana Hammers before an injury ruled him out of the semi-finals.
Sushil Kumar came as a chief guest to watch the PWL final and it was an absolute treat to witness the two superstars together for the same cause, which was to promote wrestling in India. Female wrestlers made the headlines globally and stamped their authority in a male-oriented nation. It also brought out the Phogat sisters’ story, which would inspire any young girl who wants to break the shackles and wants to make it big not just in wrestling. The six sisters - Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Vinesh, Priyanka and Sangita – are the stars of a sport, which is dominated by the men. With leagues like PWL and movies being made on these great stories, the future of Indian wrestling looks strong.
‘The Haryana way of life’ is immersed in the stories of Sushil and Yogehwar. They have come from very poor families and rose to prominence. Both have trained at Chhatrasal Stadium. Satpal Singh, coach and father-in-law of Sushil Kumar once said that Sushil is the most innocent kid he's ever seen and he's the most fierce on the field. It's a strange analogy. But, wrestlers have always been like that, haven't they? These two have always stayed grounded. They couldn't care less about all these snappy shoes or outfits. It's the sober intermingled with the ferocious - to handle and grapple whatever comes down your way - 'The Haryana Way.' Haryana is always going to produce India's best wrestlers. However, there's something about these two which makes you sad when you get to know that this is the last time when we are going to see them represent our country at the Olympics.
All things aside, the upcoming months are going to be monumental for the Indian wrestling contingent. As both these veterans bid adieu to their individual wrestling careers not long after the 2016 Olympics, it will be massive for the nation as a whole if they can sign off with gold medals. It's realistic given the combo's experience & ability. If India wants to avoid a dismal display at the Olympics, Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt have got to unravel some of their subtle magic tricks at the biggest stage. It could also be Narsingh, who won the bronze medal at 2015 World Wrestling Championships. Both Sushil and Narsingh will be fighting for that ticket to Rio, but one thing assured is the ‘big heart’, which both of them hold.
At the same time, it is a huge test for the Phogat sisters as well. If they chip in with a medal or two, it'll be remembered for decades and will inspire the next generation of girls.