Wrestling icon Sushil Kumar crowned national champion under questionable circumstances
Two-time Olympic medalist and Indian wrestling icon Sushil Kumar was crowned national champion on Friday as he won gold in the 74kg category at the National Wrestling Championships in Indore. The 34-year-old, who has returned to competition after a gap of three years, won under questionable circumstances as he fought only for a total of two minutes and 33 seconds in five matches to make his way to the top of the podium.
Having qualified for the Nationals by virtue of two walkovers, Sushil did not contest the quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds as his opponents simply refused to face him. In the last three rounds, opponents Praveen, Sachin Rathi and Parveen Rana all conceded before the match - touching their senior's feet and confirming their withdrawal.
A source close to the Sushil camp said, "This was done out of respect for Sushil, all the juniors train under him and immensely respect his achievements for the country. They also feel he was hard done by last time and all this was a gesture of respect. No one was forced or coaxed into doing anything."
In the opening round, the veteran faced Lalmalsawma, a rookie wrestler from Mizoram, who actually picked up the sport after being inspired by Sushil. The contest was an extremely one-sided one as the youngster didn't even last a minute against his idol and lost by a technical fall.
Sushil's second round match was against Mukul Mishra, who too was quickly dispatched by his senior. This time though, the match was a little longer and lasted a little less than two minutes.
The next three contests would turn out to be no-shows as the wrestlers refused to compete against Sushil. It is believed that the reason behind the gesture was a mark of respect by the juniors wrestlers towards their senior, something that is considered to be a common practice in wrestling at this level.
While 'respect' is one reason behind this turn of events, another probable explanation is that the junior grapplers knew that they did not stand a chance and as a result, did not want to risk getting injured. Rana later stated that he had aggravated an earlier injury in the previous round and hence did not compete against Sushil in the final.
The feeling of admiration for a wrestling great aside, it is certainly astonishing to see juniors giving a free pass to Sushil. Having come all the way to an important competition, one would expect to see the youngsters to give their best against a wrestler of Sushil's stature and even if they do lose, fighting an opponent of his calibre is certain to be a massive learning experience.
Social media too was abuzz after Sushil won the gold medal. Many people questioned the junior wrestlers and criticized for disrespecting the sport and displaying poor sportsmanship. There were even calls for the three grapplers to be banned for their gesture.
Irrespective of whether the move was a good one or not, it is certain that this practice will only harm Sushil in the near future. Having been out of competition in the last three years and criticized for his inactivity, perhaps match practice was as valuable for him as the Nationals gold medal, if not more.
With the Commonwealth and Asian Games lined up next year, Sushil will be looking to return to peak form in time for the CWG as he looks to resurrect his international career. However, such experiences will certainly not help him too much in achieving his goals.