A mention of Olympics to Sumit Malik makes him roll his eyes and let out a sigh. After all, he could have qualified for the Rio Games. But as fate would have it, Sumit was not on the flight to Rio becaue he failed to show up for the repechage rounds during the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Mongolia in 2016.

Had he done that, Sumit would have qualified as the wrestlers who bagged the qualifying spots tested positive. “Two years later I say I was just unlucky. But I was injured in that tournament and my back had completely given up. I could not move my leg forward and lost the first bout and had no intention of competing. I took a cab and went back to the hotel,” says Sumit, remembering the way that day had unfolded.

And instead of thinking too much about what could have been, Sumit concentrate on becoming the best among the Indians in the 125kg category and would be conferred with the Arjuna Award in New Delhi for his exploits in the last one year.

“After the injury I returned to the (Chhatarsaal) stadium and I had self doubts if I could wrestle. My left leg was very thin but with the help of physio Munesh and other wrestlers, I was able to regain strength. This award is for the stadium,” insists the 25-year-old, who insists that it is in this place that his career has been resurrected not once but twice.

Not cut out for the game?

The first time Sumit came to Chhatarsaal stadium with little hope was back in 2007. His uncle Narender Sherawat asked the young boy who was happy playing cricket and football in the fields of Karor village near Rohtak to come to Delhi and take up wrestling.

But he just could not find his footing for a couple of years and felt he wasn’t cut out for the sport as he could not make an impact even at the state level.

“Forget medals, I could not win a single bout at the state level for three years. I was not getting any results and it was disappointing. Those days I did not practice much. It took me five years to win a medal. And then I took off,” says the Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

Sumit surprised everyone when he became the 2013 junior Asian champion in 96kg and slowly transformed into a strong heavyweight wrestler as he dominated all previous stars including Krishan, Joginder and Hitender to become the top Indian in the 125kg weight category.

“In 125kg, it is very difficult to maintain consistency as there are wrestlers who come to the nationals from dangals and wrestle. So many of them have great strength and can beat you. But I have worked hard on my technique and a loss in India is rare,” he says with pride.

But internationally, Sumit has a long way to go. “I am improving. I won a silver at the Asian Championships, couple of bronze medals so I have results but at Worlds I do not have medals so I’ll try to get one there too.”

If he does that at the upcoming world championships in Budapest, Sumit will repay another debt.

During his recovery period in 2016, another product of Chhatarsaal stadium who knows a lot about making a comeback after injury, Sushil Kumar, took it upon himself to help the 25-year-old find his feet back on the mat.

“That was the time when Sushil came up to me and asked me to follow a routine and train with him. He used to spar with me, help me get my movements right. He is very strong and quick so all those aspects worked for me. I cannot thank him enough so a medal in Budapest would be for him,” he says.