Celebrating Sushil Kumar, India’s only individual two-time Olympic medallist
The veteran grappler won a freestyle bronze medal at Beijing 2008 and went one better with a silver at the London 2012 Games.
Born in the village of Baprola on the outskirts of India’s capital city Delhi, Sushil was drawn towards wrestling from a very young age due to strong family influence.
His father and uncle were amateur wrestlers and both encouraged a young Sushil and his cousin to take up the sport.
Sushil’s cousin Sandeep was also an avid wrestler for most of his formative years, but having two wrestlers in the same household was proving too expensive for the family to handle.
Funding for two with regard to proper training, infrastructure, and diet could not be maintained with Sandeep deciding to forgo his dream of becoming a wrestler to leave the way clear for Sushil.
Following his cousin’s sacrifice, Sushil shifted base to Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium as a 14-year-old boy and began training under veteran Indian coach Yashvir Singh.
Under Yashvir, the youngster began his foray into the wrestling world and soon made his name by winning the World Cadet Games in 1998.
With that win, Sushil announced himself to the world and it was only a matter of a few years before global success followed.
He won bronze at the 2003 Asian Championships at 60kg and that same year bagged gold in the Commonwealth Championships held in London.
Sushil moved up to the 66kg division as he grew in stature but the wins kept coming.
He repeated his success at the Commonwealth Championships before taking bronze at the 2006 Asian Games.
Sushil had participated in the 60kg class at the 2004 Athens Olympics but failed to make an impact as he was eliminated in the group stages.
That was no disgrace as the man who beat him, Cuba's Yandro Quintana, went on the win gold with Sushil classified 14th.
But by the time Beijing 2008 came along, the grappler was a force to be reckoned with and had serious expectations on his shoulders.
China’s Agricultural University Gymnasium was the setting but his hopes of gold were dashed in his opening contest as he went down to Ukraine's Andriy Stadnik.
But with Stadnik making it through to the final, Sushil had a chance of a bronze through the repechage.
In the bronze medal playoff, he met Leonid Spiridonov and edged out the Kazakh 3-2 to claim India's first Olympic wrestling medal since Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav in 1952.
Four years later, he was ready to take the London Olympics by storm.
But he could scarcely have been handed a tougher assignment with Turkey's defending Olympic champion Ramazan Sahin awaiting in his opening match in the last 16.
Sahin led 2-0 after round one, but Sushil pulled one back in the second and drew level in the final round to take victory by virtue of scoring last.
Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu proved too strong in the final, winning 4-1 as Sushil went home with a silver medal.
Impact back home
Winning two Olympic medals saw Sushil Kumar cement his legacy as a wrestling phenom for India.
As well as ending India’s 56-year wait for a medal in wrestling, he also changed the way the sport was perceived in the country.
His victories motivated the next crop of wrestlers like Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, and Sakshi Malik - athletes who have ensured the bar for excellence in Indian wrestlers remains consistently high.
India has now won an Olympic wrestling medal at every Games since in Beijing 2008 and remains one of the strongest nations in the sport as Tokyo 2020 draws closer.
Apart from being a beacon of motivation, Sushil has also actively worked for the progress of his sport and opened a wrestling academy in the town of Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh with an eye on giving the necessary facilities and training for the future stars.
He remains one of India’s biggest sporting success stories and is still going strong at the age of 36.
He is expected to compete at September's World Wrestling Championships in Kazakhstan and, if things go his way, he could guarantee himself a spot at his fourth Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020.