“People have this perennial habit of writing me off now and then but it does not affect me,” says veteran wrestler Sushil Kumar, who has not only quashed his retirement talks but is rather bullish about his qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Already on the wrong side of 30s, Sushil was struggling to qualify for the Tokyo Games but the postponement of the quadrennial event has re-ignited his Olympic hopes.
The Summer Games, originally scheduled for July-August this year, were expected to be a swansong for many athletes including Sushil and veteran tennis star Leander paes but the one-year delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has put a question-mark over their retirement plans.
Set to turn 37 next month, Sushil, though, ruled out retirement.
“I am not going anywhere as of now. I have got more time and more time means better preparation,” Sushil told to reporters in an interview.
Making a comeback at the 2019 World Championship, Sushil showed glimpses of his glorious past with two breathtaking four-point throws before he lost steam and made an early exit.
“Wrestling is such a sport that if you manage to remain injury-free, practice well, set a target and work on that, you can have a shot at that,” added Sushil, the only Indian to win two Olympic medals.
“I am still practising twice a day. Obviously I am not hitting the mat but I am trying to be in shape and God willing I will be able to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics,” Sushil said.
Sushil competes in the 74kg category in which India is yet to lock Olympic quota. But will he be able to defy age-related issues?
“People were saying the similar things in 2011. I know how to handle this. It’s my daily job to manage it.”
Sushil was referring to doubts people cast in 2011 over his ability to repeat his Beijing’s bronze medal-winning show at the 2012 London Games. However, he ended up winning a silver in London.
The delay in Olympics has also brought Sushil’s old foe Narsingh Pancham Yadav in the picture since his four-year doping ban will be over in July and he will be eligible to have a shot at the Olympic qualification.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has already said it will allow Narsingh to make a comeback.
Narsingh, on his part, said he too is eying a comeback.
All this has led to the wrestling circle in India to anticipate another Sushil vs Narsingh trial bout. The bitterness between the two is still fresh in fans’ minds.
When asked about the expected bout, Sushil said, “We will see when the time comes. What can I say now about this.
“All I can say is to congratulate Narsingh that he can restart his career. I wish him the best.”
Jitender Kumar is also doing a decent job as he recently won a bronze in 74kg at the Asian Championship.
Sushil, it seems, does not consider any of the compatriots his real rivals.
When asked about the competition he is likely to face from fellow Indians, he said, “If you think small, you will achieve nothing. I am thinking about the international wrestlers, who are my likely rivals. Like there is one Uzbekistan guy, who won Asian Games gold medallist (Bekzod Abdurakhmonov). He is really good, my preparations are keeping in mind these wrestlers.
“I am keeping an eye on everyone. I am analysing everyone. If I think about small target, it won’t lead me anywhere,” he signed off.