For fans of Indian sport, the 2012 Olympics will always be special. If you were growing up in the 90s, Leander Paes’ historic bronze in 1996 marked the end of a long wait to see an Indian on the podium at the world’s most prestigious sporting event. But like in 1996, the 2000 and 2004 editions saw India win just one medal. Beijing 2008 saw an upturn in fortunes as Abhinav Bindra created history with his gold, to go with two bronze medals.
When Sushil Kumar won one of those aforementioned bronze medals, little would he or India have known that his medal four years later would see the country’s tally double.
On August 12, 2012, Sushil capped the country’s most successful campaign at the Olympic Games with a historic silver medal as he became the first Indian to win back-to-back individual medals at the mega event.
Sushil fought bravely after vomiting and suffering dehydration following his semi-final victory, but ended up losing the final against a strong Japanese rival Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu in the gold medal bout. The final was held within three hours of his semi-final victory over Kazakhstan’s Akzhurek Tanatarov. And to add to the 29-year-old Indian fighter’s woes, he had picked up a neck injury too that hampered his progress against the Guangzhou Asian Games champion Yonemitsu.
India, thus, ended its Games campaign with six medals – its best ever show at the biggest sports extravaganza – though four years ago at Beijing shooter Abhinav Bindra also won a gold, which eluded India in London.
In the final, the star Indian grappler trailed 0-1 after the first round and was out of the contest within 30 seconds of the second round when Yonemitsu penetrated his defence, lifted him up and banged him on the mat to fetch a decisive three-point lead.
The most dramatic bout was the one that confirmed gold or silver for Sushil as had made a stunning comeback in the semi-final. He fought the best bout of his life as he came from behind to beat Tantarov 3-1 in the semi-final.
Sushil first used the Iranian technique to get over his opponent and then rolled him over for two points. A head butt by Tantarov assured him another point. The second round undoubtedly belonged to the 25-year-old Kazakh wrestler as he put Sushil on the mat and tossed him over to get 3-0 clincher.
When the third round started, the 29-year-old Indian looked tired and jaded and conceded a 3-0 lead to the Kazakh within the first few seconds. The match looked as good as over for Sushil who waited for that one inspirational moment as he caught Tantarov by his leg and pegged him down to make it 3-3 with the vociferous Indian contingent egging him on. Sushil then floored his rival on the mat to emerge victor.
Earlier, Sushil defeated defending champion Ramazan Sahin of Turkey, the 2008 gold medalist, in his first bout and then prevailed over Uzbekistan’s Ikhtiyor Naruzov 3-1 in the quarter-finals.
With PTI inputs