London: The dejection was writ large on his face. He barely smiled on the podium. During the customary group photo after the medal ceremony, he looked aloof till Kazakh wrestler Akzhurek Tanatarov pulled him in.
Sushil Kumar's London dreams had been shattered by a stomach bug and he barely hid his disappointment. Soon after his final bout against Japanese Yonemitsu Tatsuhiro, he just walked away from the media.
But better sense prevailed after the medal ceremony at the ExCel Arena. With the silver around his neck, Sushil spoke in an exclusive chat. Excerpts:
Q: Sushil, good job. You won the silver.
A: (smiles) Yes, it's the blessings and love of Indian people that I won the silver. I was laid low by a bad stomach. I just don't know how it happened. I have been eating the food at the Games Village and was fine till the semifinal. (Then very philosophically)... sometimes in life small things can wreck you on a big day. Today, I was a victim. I am trying to face it.
Q: What went through your mind when you stepped into the ring. The whole stadium was cheering you.
A: Yes, I could feel it. It was such a great moment. After my semis I went and shook hands in the stands. I wanted the national anthem to fire by blood but my body was giving up. I lost a bit of weight and felt weak. I could barely challenge the Japanese.
Q: You have given India their sixth medal at the London Olympics. And you are the first Indian to win back-to-back Olympic medals. That's a great achievement.
A: That's true. The journey to London had started immediately after Beijing (bronze). So, it's been a long journey towards excellence. A wrestler's life is not easy. I wanted to win gold and I was quite close. But there are few things you can’t control. At least, deep in my heart, I know the effort I had put it.
Q: This was your third Olympics. Have you thought of a third because age is not in your side.
A: I am 29 and there are many fighters in London who are senior to me. I definitely want to fight in Rio Olympics in 2016 and I want to change the colour of the medal. Age is just a number.
Q: Several Indian cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan have tweeted that they are proud of you.
A: I want to thank everyone who wished me well. I can't do anything without your blessings. I thank my parents and of course my guru, Satpalji. Plus my wife (Satpal's daughter Savi) was there cheering for me. So it's been a collective effort.
Q: You had gone to Belarus to train immediately after the opening ceremony on July 28 and returned only on Aug. 8. The media barely knew about it.
A: Yes, that was part of the plan. It was no point wasting time here in the Village because the wrestling programme comes at the end of the Games. As I said, my chart was well planned out. It would be a combination of training and competition. There were no short cuts.