New Delhi: Sushil Kumar's ability to grapple with the world's best was known only to the wrestling community till Wednesday when he surprised others by winning the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics.
Talk to his village folk in Boprala in Najafgarh, West Delhi, they will tell you that they knew he was destined for great things, even if wrestling does not get the importance it deserves in this country.
The entire village celebrated Sushil's success and every household from the village head downwards said he was their darling son.
His father Diwan Singh, an MTNL driver, said his son promised him a gold and that Sushil must be disappointed for getting a just the bronze. He has put Boprala on the wrestling map of the world.
Diwan Singh said he himself was very fond of wrestling, but the family's economic condition would not allow him to fulfil his ambition. But he did not want his son to meet the same fate.
"Within my limited resources, I tried to see he became a top-notch wrestler and today I am happy that he has fulfilled my long-cherished ambition of becoming a big-time wrestler."
Diwan Singh did not forget all those who had helped his son, particularly 1982 Asian games gold medallist Satpal, who was there in Beijing when his ward won the medal, and his long-time coach Yashbir Singh, who saw to it that the young wrestler fulfilled his potential. "Of course, the entire village joined them in promoting his passion and today they are all celebrating in a festive way."
No wonder, Sushil dedicated the medal to his guru Satpal and Yashbir and his parents.
Yashbir said how young Sushil got motivated to wrestling and continued with all seriousness. Nothing would distract him.
"He began to grapple at the age of ten and his first major success came in the world cadet championships in 1998 when he won the gold at 15 in Manchester. He went on to win it a second time in Poland. After that he didn't need any prodding to carry on with wrestling. He kept winning medal at every age-group competition and at least I did not have any doubts about his making big."
Unlike many wrestlers who fade away after showing great promise at the junior levels, Sushil consistently strove to excel himself at every step of the ladder.
Yashbir said only those who followed his rigorous workout at Patiala and Belarus in the run-up to the Olympics would only know that Sushil was in with a chance of winning a medal, though wrestling was not in the picture of media list of medal winners.
"You have only to see to believe what all his father did for his Sushil," said an emotionally choked Yashbir, adding "he used to get cans of milk, tins of ghee and a container of freshly-cooked vegetables for him every day. "
The family believes that the blessings and best wishes of the entire village, from children of an impressionable age to nonagenarians, were with Sushil when he was fighting. Everyone was glued to the TV watching every single bout.
"Everybody in the village used to say that among the wrestlers if anybody wins the medal it is going to be Sushil. He used to eat only ghee, milk and vegetables. Coaches have really put in a lot of effort," said Diwan Singh.