Boxer Vijender Kumar and wrestler Sushil Kumar have not only become darlings of the 1.1 billion strong nation after Abhinav Bindra but have also created history, making today a special day in the 80-year-old Olympic association of the country. They have assured their motherland at least two bronze medals in a single day, making the Chinese capital their most happy medal hunting ground. India's previous best Olympic medal aggregate has been a gold and a bronze that it had won in Helsinki in 1952.
A wrestler from Delhi and a pugilist from Haryana, made hundreds of Indians in the stands of the Workers Stadium stand tall on their feet.
While wrestler Sushil Kumar has already been declared winner of a bronze medal in 66 kg category, Vijender Kumar has assured himself of a bronze by winning his quarterfinal bout against Carlos Gongora of Ecuador late this evening.
Vijender has thus become the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal while Sushil Kumar cannot boast of that distinction. In 1952, it was wrestler K.D. Yadav,
who had won a bronze medal in bantamweight.
“I have been delighted by my performance,” remarked Vijender saying that he had been under “tremendous pressure after two of his colleagues, including Akhil, had lost their quarterfinal bouts.
“All the pressure was on me as Akhil, even after beating world champion Russian, lost the quarterfinals. And Jatinder lost a few hours before my bout.”
“My height and my right punch worked wonders for me. And it has been the prayers of my parents and coaches which also helped me win the medal,” said Vijender Kumar who had lost in the first round of the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
“I am prepared to fight my Cuban rival in the semifinal,” he added. The semifinal is scheduled for August 22.
After shooter Abhinav Bindra broke the jinx by winning the country’s first individual Olympic gold medal, Sushil Kumar took forward India’s hunt for honours with the second medal of the Games, a bronze, to equal the country’s previous best performance in Olympics.
Since the Helsinki Games, India has been ending its Olympic campaign with either a single or no medals.
After a bronze medal in 1952, Leander Paes won a bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Then weightlifter K. Malleshwari (bronze, Sydney 2000), shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (silver, shooting, Athens 2004) and Abhinav Bindra (shooting, gold, Beijing 2008) have been the other individual medal winners.
After wrestler K.D. Jadhav won the bronze in 1952 Olympics, India did have a couple of good wrestlers in Uday Chand and Bishambar Singh. But they could not progress to the medal round. Even Kartar Singh did not come anywhere near medal round in the Olympics.
The grappler from Satpal akhara
New Delhi, August 20
President Pratibha Singh Patil, in her congratulatory message to Sushil, said: “I am extremely delighted and proud that you have won the bronze medal in wrestling in 66kg freestyle. Your determination, grit and ambition for achievement have given the nation its second medal. You have proved that hard work will always bring laurels”.
Son of Dewan Singh, a driver with the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), Sushil Kumar had been training at the akhara run by former Asian Games champion Satpal at the Chhatrasal Stadium in North Delhi for the past 14 years, with several other boys. The wrestling community was elated at Sushil’s victory as they hoped that the sport will get the much needed attention from the concerned authorities.
Interestingly, India won their first individual medal in the 1952 Melbourne Olympics through wrestler Kasbha Dadasaheb Yadav but Sushil’s bronze will definitely will give a great push to wrestling, the sport of the rustic common people. A commercial manager with Northern Railway, Sushil had shown his potential early, though a big medal had come only now, if his Asian Championship and Asian Cadet Championship gold medals were not counted.
This boy from Baapdola in Najafgarh took to wrestling at an early age, and when Satpal saw the hidden potential in him, he was enrolled in the wrestling academy housed at the Delhi Government-run Chhatrasal stadium, from where Satpal functions as the deputy director of education, Delhi Government.
Satpal was in Beijing, proudly following the exploits of his ward, but a senior coach at the stadium Yashbir Dabas, who has been following the progress of Sushil for the past 14 years, said Sushil cast away his nervous approach in the first two bouts, to record a convincing win in the fight for the bronze, particularly in view of the fact that he had to reduce his weight for the bout. Former Asian Games medallist and this year’s Dronacharya Award winning coach Jagminder Singh said Sushil Kumar used brawn and brain to record his victory. “He attacked and defended with equal felicity, otherwise he was in danger of losing points”.
Sushil was also lucky that out of the 20 wrestlers in the fray in his weight category, he had competed against 10 in the Asian Championship, and bested three of them. Former national coach Maha Singh Rao said Sushil was not very convncing and impressive in his first two bouts, but made a dramatic recovery and fought well in the later rounds.
Dr Gill said he was also greatly elated at the victory of boxer Vijender Singh. “I have been a boxer myself, and I watched Vijender’s bout on television. He’s a cool customer, and to quote Mohammad Ali, he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. He has technical finesse and I will not be surprised if he goes on to win the silver or gold”.
Indian Olympic Association senior vice-president Tarlochan Singh said it was due to the systematic training and foreign exposure provided to the boxers by the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF), headed by Abhay Singh Chautala, for the past few years that they were now doing well at the Olympic ring.
Riotous celebrations at Bhiwani
Bhiwani, August 20
For the first few moments family members looked in disbelief as the crowd’s celebratory mood threatened to create a mini stampede. But luckily, celebrations remained celebrations, howsoever riotous.
It took several minutes for the female family members to bring petha for the guests as they had been watching the bout live in a room whereas the males were watching it on another television set in the open outside the house.
Within minutes of Vijender’s win scores of youths from the Bhiwani Boxing Club started arriving at Kaluwas carrying boxes of sweets. Everyone present wanted a share of sweets from every box opened. In the melee the floor was soon covered with laddoos, barfi and petha pieces. But none had the time for niceties; celebration is all that they wanted.
Vijender’s parents and siblings were dumbfounded. They could not utter a word beyond “We are very happy” for the first few moments. It was much later that they regained their postures and said they would have been even happier if both Akhil and Jitender had also won.
Fellow junior boxers from Jitender’s village Devsar also came calling bringing in candles and earthen lamps. Vijender’s parents had declared early in the morning that should their son win, there would be diwali in the village.
The spirit of sports runs through the Bhiwaniwalas blood. Residents of Kaluwas were quick to say that whichever medal Vijender wins it will always remind the future generations of the trio - Akhil, Jitender and Vijender collectively.
“Hum Bhiwani ke boxers ka ek parivar hai aur yeh medal us poore parivar ka hai akele Vijender ka nahin”, commented an elderly resident of the village.
The sporting spirit also came to the fore when earlier in the day Jitender lost his bout. Just as Jitender Kumar lost his Olympic medal bid, the 200 odd junior boxers watching the bout live at the Bhiwani Boxing Club got up, donned their boxing gloves and started punching the bags dangling from the tin roof of the makeshift ring.
Savour this reaction to the loss: “Jitu bhai has lost. Doesn’t matter. But we have to avenge his defeat by winning a medal the next time. So we can’t waste time. Boxing must go on”, commented a 15-year-old Mahendra Kumar while punching furiously at the bag. No regrets. No disappointment. No tears. Just a professional and practical reaction from India’s future hopes.
The same story was repeated at Jitender Kumar’s village - Devsar. A motley crowd had gathered there to watch the bout under a tent put up outside his extremely small house. By the third round when Jitender Kumar began to trail, a hushed silence had taken over from the roars that marked the first point he scored.
And when the result came, nobody showed any emotion. For a few awkward moments the children and youths sat glued to their chairs. But, one by one, the youths began to leave and they could be seen punching at makeshift boxing punching bags outside their houses and in the vicinity of a 1200-year-old Durga Bhawani temple where the entire village had offered prayers this morning for Jitender Kumar’s win.
Vijender set for promotion
Chandigarh, August 20
Hooda said Vijender Kumar would be given a State honour, promoted as DSP and a reward of Rs 50 lakh. He hoped that Vijender would win the gold medal and would be given Rs 2 crore under the state policy. He said all those players of Haryana who had reached quarter finals of the Olympics had been given a reward of Rs 25 lakh each. Haryana Governor A.R. Kidwai also congratulated Vijender. Haryana sports minister Kiran Choudhry, who viewed the boxing match in Bejing, also congratulated Vijender.