London, Aug. 12: On Saturday morning, hours before the official weigh-in, Sushil Kumar was in tears. He had been found overweight.
Three hours of running in the sun and intense workouts helped the 29-year-old wrestler shed the extra ounces but left him dehydrated and weakened too.
Yet 24 hours later, the son of a Delhi Transport Corporation bus conductor had bagged the 66kg freestyle silver to add to his Beijing bronze, becoming the only Indian to win an individual medal in two Olympics.
“The weight I shed yesterday affected my performance to an extent,” Sushil admitted after scripting back-from- behind wins against three top wrestlers within 90 minutes.
But bad luck struck again before the final against Japan’s Asiad gold-winner and world championship runner-up Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu, 26.
Sushil had already hurt his left shoulder during his pulsating semi-final against Kazakhstan’s Akzhurek Tanatarov when, down 0-3, he lifted his opponent and then pinned him to the mat on his way to a 9-6 victory.
Then he ate something and seemed to upset his stomach just as Indian fans were crowding into the ExCel Arena to place all the weight of their last expectations of a gold on India’s last man standing on the final day.
“He was in bad shape. He vomited thrice and went to the toilet six times before his (final) bout. He was very weak,” team manager Raj Singh said.
A visibly jaded Sushil offered little resistance to Yonemitsu who clinched the contest 3-1.
“I wanted the national anthem to be playing in the wrestling hall because of my performance,” said India’s flag-bearer of the opening ceremony.
“That didn’t happen.... The stomach upset dehydrated me. I was injured, too, but that is part of the game. I tried my best... the Japanese was better than me.”
Sushil had been inspired to take up wrestling by his cousin Sandeep, who had to quit the sport because the bus conductor’s family in Baprola village, on Delhi’s outskirts, could afford to support just one wrestler. The boy Sushil trained in mud pits and slept in a room with 20 others.
“Sushil tu to sher hai,” a fan shouted at the end of the final. It took the silver-medallist more than 15 minutes to reach the dressing room through a gate packed with flag-waving Indians.
“It was bronze in Beijing and now it’s a silver,” Sushil mused. “Maybe in the next Olympics I shall be able to win gold.”
Sushil had dished out a fairytale performance in the earlier rounds, banking on his skill, experience and stamina to bounce back from initial reverses. He beat 2008 Olympic champion Sahin Ramazan of Turkey and Uzbekistan’s Ikhtiyor Navruzov by 3-1 margins after conceding the opening round in each game.
The semi-final was a classic. Seemingly down and out at 0-3, the Indian followed up a superb hold-down that levelled the score with two further points with only 34 seconds left.
In the end, the gold didn’t come but the man who had carried the Indian flag on the opening day had kept it flying till the end.