Sunil Kumar fulfills his father’s dream with 87kg Greco-Roman gold medal at Asian Wrestling Championships

New Delhi – In 2007, Ashwini Kumar, a farmer from Dabarpur village in Sonepat district in Haryana, faced a dilemma. The family story is that he had just returned from a wedding where he had met pehelwans (wrestlers). Ashwini had never wrestled, neither anyone in his family nor anyone in Dabarpur, but he was impressed enough with the behavior of the wrestlers and the honor bestowed on them at the ceremony that he decided that one of his four children would become a wrestler as well. “His dream was for one of us to win a big name for the family. Naam Roshan Karega (will live up to our last name) “, says Sumit Kumar, Ashwini’s eldest child.

However, this is where the problem started. With their rich diets and specialized, resource-intensive training, raising a wrestler is very expensive and Ashwini was not a rich man. “He could only choose one of us to support. So he made us run, Sunil and I, in the fields,” recalls Sumit. It was no ordinary race on a smooth track. The mud in the fields had been plowed and flooded with water, so each step through the sticky substance was harder to take than the last. Such a course was a test not only of speed but also of endurance and will. It is in this obstacle course that Sunil, the youngest, has proven himself.

“Even though Sunil was much younger than me, he beat me easily. Even when you compare the way we run in the mud, you can tell he was the strongest. This is how our dad did. decided that Sunil was going to become a wrestler, ”says Sommet.

Thirteen years after winning the race that would determine his career, Sunil Kumar, now 21, has lived up to the responsibility entrusted to him. On Tuesday, at the KD Jadhav Stadium in New Delhi, he won a gold medal in the Greco-Roman 87 kg category at the Asian Wrestling Championships. In doing so, Sunil became the first Indian in 27 years to finish on the top step of the podium in this wrestling format at the continental championships.

Sunil’s journey from Dabarpur to the top step of the podium at the Asian Championships was not without its share of obstacles. In order to continue his wrestling career, he enrolled in the sports school in Nidani, Haryana, where he learned the basics of wrestling. It was not an easy choice to make, given the financial burden of studying at the private school. His family, however, supported him even in the most difficult times.

“In 2010, we lost our father in a traffic accident. It was very difficult for us. Sunil’s school fees, room, food and meals in Nidani cost us around Rs 7,000 per month. It is very expensive for us, but we have succeeded in one way or another. There were times when our mother would take out loans just to pay for her expenses. We even rented our farmland for money. We had a few buffaloes and the milk from one of them was reserved for Sunil, ”recalls Sumit.

The reason for this sacrifice was simple. “We had to make our father’s dream come true. Our mother always reminded Sunil of it. He had to stay focused on his struggle. He couldn’t drink or be in bad company because of what our father wanted,” Sumit explains.

Sunil has held its end of the bargain. He started his career as a freestyle wrestler, but switched to the Greco-Roman format (which differs from the freestyle in that it only allows holds from the waist up) in 2015. He has found success shortly thereafter, winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Asian Junior Championships and then adding two more medals of the same color to the 2017 and 2018 editions of the tournament.

In the 2019 edition – his first year as a senior – he won a silver medal at the Asian Championships, but the miss only whetted his appetite to go all the way in 2020.

At KD Jadhav Stadium, luck seemed to be in its corner. Sunil was in the easier half of the table, with 2019 world bronze medalist Rustam Assakalov from Uzbekistan and Iranian Behrooz Hedayat, gold medalist of the prestigious Takhti Cup earlier this year, on the other side. of the draw. His good fortune continued as Hedayat, who had beaten Assakalov and led Kyrgyzstan’s Azat Salidinov 7-0 in the semifinals, withdrew from the competition with a sprained ankle just seven seconds from the end of the match.

Even under the most favorable circumstances, however, Sunil’s dream lay with the thinnest of sons. In the semifinals against 2018 Asian Games bronze medalist Azamat Kustubayev, the Indian was on the verge of defeat after two four-point throws that led him 1-8 at the end of the first period. With an eight-point margin being a reason for declaring the end of a Greco-Roman contest, a single point for the Kazakh would have meant the end of Sunil’s campaign for gold.

That lonely point never came, however. The Indian’s strength is his stamina and as the Kazakh energy runs out dramatically, Sunil hit the gas. “I have always been convinced that if Sunil succeeds in the first round, he will tire his opponent. Russian countries are famous for their technique. Sunil is not that strong there, but his endurance is much higher than that of n ‘anyone else,’ said national coach Hargobind Singh.

“My father was very important to me early in my career. I got there only because of his blessings.”

Sunil Kumar

It was not empty talk. At the Asian Championships last year, against the same opponent, Sunil was 5-0 down in the first round before coming back to pin the Kazakh. Indeed, before the Asian Championships, during a training camp in Kazakhstan, Sunil was on the wrong side of a one-sided training fight against Kustubayev before his opponent got tired. “He probably got 20 points in the first round. But after the first round, Sunil dominated him, ”recalls coach Singh.

Sunil admitted it much later. “I wasn’t afraid to be this far. I knew I couldn’t lose one more point, but I supported myself to get back from there,” he said.

The semi-final against Kustubayev was the only time Sunil was challenged in the tournament. In his final against Salidinov, he led from the start, pushing his opponent out of the ring three times to climb to a 5-0 victory. With the victory over, Sunil’s coaches are already looking to the challenge ahead – the Asian Olympic qualifiers next month. They are convinced that he can also meet this challenge.

“I am very positive, he will be able to qualify for the Olympics. He has improved a lot since the last Asian Championships. He was a little weak in his defense because of which he will often give points like in half. final against the Kazakh Wrestler. But if he just focuses on avoiding mistakes like he did in the final, it will be very difficult to score against him, “said coach Hargobind.

Sunil, too, hopes to compete in the Olympics. And if he made it to the ultimate stage of his sport, he would only make his father’s wishes come true. “My father was very important to me at the start of my career. I got there only because of his blessings, ”he says.

Robert J. King