After the London Olympics, how has the Chhatrashal Stadium changed for you?
Much has changed here. Sushil Kumar was the only medalist here. The rest of us were simply Olympians. With two medals this time, young wrestlers here have started dreaming of being Olympic medalists one day. I have just fulfilled my childhood dream. Now everybody wants to meet me, get my autograph. They want to be clicked with me. But the most special thing is that I have won an Olympic medal.
When you left for London, did you feel your preparations were just right this time?
This was my third Olympic Games. Returning empty-handed from the last two was really frustrating. So I knew I had to be fully prepared for London. I had this feeling that I could come back with a medal. In 2008, I was an Asian champion. This year, too, I was the Asian champion. I am the only Indian wrestler to be the Asian champion twice. Even in the Olympic qualifying tournament, I had defeated the world champion from Uzbekistan. I defeated many top wrestlers this year.
This medal was your father’s dream as well.
I had to leave for the Asian Championship two days after my father died in 2009. I won the bronze there and dedicated it to my father. An Olympic medal was my father’s dream. Fortunately I fulfilled not only his dream but the nation’s dream.
After missing out in Beijing did you change your regimen?
The preparations didn’t change much but I certainly made changes in my schedule of competitions. I underwent two knee operations in 2009. Since then I took part in selected competitions, a maximum of three to four tournaments a year. Asian championship, World Championship and two more tournaments were my priorities. That was the major change in my approach.
Becoming the 2012 Asian champion was a significant achievement before the London Olympics, wasn’t it?
Most champion wrestlers are from Asia. Iran, Korea, Japan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Kazakhistan all have top class wrestlers, so becoming the champion in Asia means being among the best.
In the Olympic pre-quarters, you went down fighting to a strong opponent. Was it disappointing?
I lost 0-3 to a very strong wrestler, four-time and reigning world champion Besik Kudukhov from Russia. I got the opportunity to prove myself in the repechage round and fortunately grabbed the bronze. In repechage I fought three wrestlers within 45 minutes. Wrestling is very challenging; we have to fight against different opponents within five-six hours in a single day. Everything is decided in a few hours.
You went to London with the best possible preparation. Do you regret not winning the silver or gold medal?
My group was the toughest as it had world champions in it. So I am satisfied with what I achieved. Yes, I can say I was not lucky enough in the pre-quarters. Had I won the toss I would have had the opportunity to grab Kudukhov’s legs and the result would have different.
After winning the medal you said, “I wanted to win and it didn’t matter if I lost my eye or broke my hand or leg.”
Yes, you are right. I was just begging of God, “Give me a medal at any cost”. I got my eye injured in the second bout. I was concentrating on winning a medal. I’ve had many injuries in the past. I knew injuries can be treated but if I miss the chance to win a medal that cannot be compensated. Now my eye injury is almost cured. If I had failed to win a medal, the injury in my heart would have been permanent.
What are your targets before the Rio Olympics in 2016?
Before Rio, I have to participate in the World Championship next year. In 2014, we have the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. The same year there is the World Championship. Next year in Delhi I have to participate in the Asian Championship. I am moving step by step.
When are you planning to marry? Sushil Kumar won a silver medal after marriage.
If anyone can guarantee that I will win an Olympic gold medal after marriage only then I will marry now.
Did you ever feel that your recurring knee injury might spoil your Olympic dream?
After the Beijing Games, I lived for six months in Africa to get my knee operated. My knee injury hampered my preparations but it could never dampen my spirit. I had self-belief. The Commonwealth Games gold medal was a real boost. But then I sustained a back injury and was out of wrestling for five months. But I came back again and achieved what I wanted to.
Sushil Kumar on long-time friend Yogeshwar Dutt
His willpower is very strong. As a human being, he is simply a gem. He has helped me a lot. We have been learning the nuances of wrestling together since childhood when we were 30-32 kg. We are like family. When I had a tough fight in the first round in the London Olympics, he motivated me. I always had faith in him. I had always said that Yogeshwar is a big hope for an Olympic medal. Since he won a medal after being out of the wrestling for almost one year I can guarantee he will do wonders in the Rio Olympics.