He’s a vegetarian, and likes watching TV serials. He’s disciplined and down to earth. Prasoon Kumar meets Sushil Kumar, who has just won gold at the World Wrestling Championships It was a defining moment at the Olympic stadium in Moscow. As Sushil Kumar raised his arms and ran towards his coaches with the elation of a child, his defeated opponent Alan Gogaev covered his face with his hands and remained on the floor. The celebrations that began with Kumar’s gold-winning grapple with the Russian at the recently concluded World Championships, continued all the way to Delhi, where he was greeted with garlands and crowds at the airport on his return. As the collective focus of India’s sporting ambitions shifts to the Commonwealth Games, the 27-year-old continues to field calls and interview requests which have grown a hundredfold since his latest triumph, but even in the midst of these distractions, he’s back to his usual disciplined routine.
The routine differs depending on when the next big event is scheduled and preparations are currently on in right earnest for another medal — at the Commonwealth Games. Kumar wakes up at 6 am and joins the other wrestlers for a half-an-hour warm-up before going on to do two hours of mat-work. “At my akhada I usually wake up earlier, around 4 am, but at camp it’s different. We do a bit of running and then training begins. Our coaches decide the kind of training — we have to work to improve power and strength too, apart from our skills on the mat,” he says.
Most mornings feature a specific running schedule which is modified frequently — a 1.5km run is the norm, while some days have a series of two-minute sprints thrown in. Post-breakfast, he is ready for an afternoon of more work. Techniques are under scrutiny at this time of day and each wrestler is assigned a partner with whom he practices. He takes a break around 12.30 pm in the form of lunch. After lunch, it’s time to relax. The evening session is marked out for 6-8 pm, though freestyle national coach Jagmender Singh explains how they’re training earlier keeping in mind the CWG timings. “The wrestling bouts at the Games will take place in the afternoon so sometimes we begin the evening sessions at 3 or 4 pm,” says Singh.
|Monday: Morning – mat-work; evening – ground work including games of basketball/football/handball
|Tuesday: Only mat-work apart from usual physical warm-up exercises
|Wednesday: More of running and speed work, sprints
|Thursday: Same as Monday with the addition of some time in the gym
|Saturday: Cross-country running (10km)
|Sunday: Rest day
Training in the gym is also on the itinerary and for a light session, the wrestlers are divided into groups and told to play a game of basketball, football or handball. In the last episode of a day’s preparation, a mix of physical work and grappling is undertaken. Early to bed and early to rise is the maxim every wrestler follow, and by 10 pm, it’s lights out. Sundays are designated as rest days and the athletes may relax with a massage or a few films on TV.
After the morning session, Kumar takes a short break during which he has a glass of juice and some almonds. Breakfast consists of eggs, milk, bread and bananas. “We have a dietician and a doctor who decide what we should eat and since we have to watch our weight with respect to our categories, this is quite important. I’m not a fussy eater, as long as I have my vegetarian food, I’m happy,” adds Kumar. Lunch is a light meal, with paneer and green vegetables on the menu. Since most of the wrestlers happen to be from the north of the country, chapattis are generally favoured to rice.
Dinner is slightly more substantial than lunch, but staying within dietician’s orders of course, and apart from the usual vegetables and chapattis, fish may be added to the menu.
The coaches are unanimous in their opinion of Kumar as an obedient sportsman who sticks to the regime chalked out by them. “I’ve known Sushil since 2003 and he was very good even back then. His performances have been getting better and better and he has continuedto train hard,” adds Singh. “I don’t like going out much, I may watch a bit of TV in my free time. In Delhi at my usual training place, there isn’t a television but since there is one here I love watching the serials that are shown on Colors,” laughs Kumar, as he reveals this innocent indulgence. His focus, though, is clear. Used to creating history even when nothing was expected of him — when he won the bronze at Beijing in 2008 he was largely unknown — Kumar still goes about his business in his usual, unassuming way. The public perception of his talent may have grown over the years, but this champion still wants the same things — namely, medals.
(Prasoon Kumar is a New Delhi-based freelance writer)