Star grappler Sushil Kumar says it was a mistake to head into big tournaments like the Wrestling World Championships without enough “mat-time” and he will now compete more regularly to revive his sagging career.

India’s only two-time individual Olympic medallist returned to the Worlds after eight years but lost in the opening round of the 74kg weight category in Kazakhstan.

In a seven-year period, between the silver medal-winning performance at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2019 World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Sushil competed in only seven tournaments. While he won gold medals at the 2014 and the 2018 editions of the Commonwealth Games, Sushil struggled at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games leading to questions on whether he was good enough to go any further at 36.

Read: Five medals, four Olympic quotas mark best-ever performance

Sushil recently started to train with Russian coach Kamal Malikov in a bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics through the World Championships. He did fight better than the Jakarta Games but nonetheless exited after a first-round defeat in the 74kg category.

“I lost but I felt good on the mat. I was faster than Jakarta. I was at this Championship just to announce to the world that I am getting back. And even the foreign coaches around said, ‘you look like getting back’,” Sushil told PTI in an interview.

In Nur-Sultan the 36-year-old did show glimpses of the talent that made help him win two Olympics medals, when he twice troubled Azerbaijan’s Khadzhimurad Gadhiyev with four-point throws.

“I lack in stamina and defense as of now. My coach Malikov had said he wants 90 day-training to put me back in shape. It’s about 50 days as of now. I had put on weight and I had slowed down too.

“But today, I have lost weight, I have become faster. The body is in competition mode. My coach says I am better from what I was two years ago,” he said.

Getting used to Malikov’s methods

So where did he vanish in between?

“I thought, I should play only bigger tournaments but the coach (Malikov) said no, I have to be in competition every month or in every 45 days to have enough mat-time,” he explained.

But why was he not competing often all these years?

“Honestly, I did not feel like competing but people who are close to me said, even If I have 10-20 per cent of wrestling left in me, I should not quit. So I decided to train and qualify for the Olympics. I will try to qualify from the Asian event next year,” he said.

Sushil said while the years of experience behind him make him technically sound, his training methods have changed.

“As you age, you have to change. I can’t put myself to rigours after a certain age. You can’t break your body. I still love wrestling, so I am still here,” he said.

“I am doing everything but not going the whole hog. I have to do everything. I have to run, I have to be on the mat, in the gym, do some power training. The coach makes my schedule. And when it’s competition, it’s different training,” he said.

With two Olympic medals and one world title, Sushil has nothing to prove then why is he pushing himself for another Olympics?

“I still love wrestling. I have the support of my family and my Guru Mahabali Satpal. He says, ‘even if you have a 10% wrestling left in you, you must not leave the mat’.”

But is it easy to swallow defeats since his reputation is at stake too?

“In 2009 I was close to World Championship title, in 2003 I missed it by a very close margin. The world champions lose and the Olympic champions also lose,” he pointed out.

“I lost in Belarus and at the World Championship but I am analysing. I have learnt to digest defeats. If I win I don’t become arrogant and if I lose, I don’t lose heart.”