Olympics: History, 1 billion Indian fans, on Solanki’s shoulders
LONDON: Sushil Kumar Solanki is in line for a fast track promotion by his employers Indian Railway should he bag India’s first ever wrestling gold medal at London 2012. After winning bronze in Beijing, the train ticket officer was rewarded with the new title of assistant Commercial Manager.
And if he returns to Delhi from the Excel Centre with the 66kg freestyle title in his luggage he can expect to be named the state railway’s new life president.
Solanki has no pressure on his broad shoulders, aside from the small matter of one billion people rooting for him back home.
In 2008 he became only the second Indian to win Olympic wrestling bronze after Khasaba Jadhav in Helsinki in 1952.
Now he has his sights firmly fixed on the top podium place.
“If my wrestling can make people happy then I consider that my greatest success,” says Solanki, who has already created history when becoming the first Indian to win gold at a World Championships when he defeated Alan Gorgaev of Russia in Moscow in 2010.
He was then crowned Commonwealth Games champion on home ground a month later
“The whole of India will be watching the London Games and I have got a lot of love among the spectators who will be expecting a great tournament from me,” he told the BBC.
“But hopefully with all their prayers and support, I will be able to make them proud.”
The 29-year-old is fully aware of the task that lies ahead of him, but is ready to realise his and his nation’s dream.
“I know it’s going to be very tough in London, especially with the fantastic wrestlers from Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan, Turkey and across the world. But I want to go home with the gold and become an Olympic champion.”
Whatever the railway employee’s fate, London 2012 can expect to provide rich pickings for the Russia’s wrestling juggernaut.
Russia left Beijing four years ago topping the table with six titles, one better than at Athens in 2004. Russia’s neighbours Georgia and Uzbekistan annexed a further three men’s titles. In women’s freestyle, traditional powerhouse Japan celebrated double gold, while China repeated their lone title sucess from Athens.
Japan wrestling queen Saori Yoshida’s bid for a third straight Olympic gold took a major knock in May with the end of her 58-match winning streak at the Japan-Russia final of the women’s World Cup in Tokyo.
Distraught at defeat she said: “All I have done will mean nothing if I don’t achieve a three-peat in London.
“I want to turn these tears into tears of joy in London and I want to finish with a smile on my face.”
Britain’s own Games build-up has been marred by a row over “plastic Brits” — the label attached to star imports like Ukraine-born Myroslav Dykun, who won 66kg gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games but who misses the Games after testing positive for amphetamines.
As a result “Team GB” now numbers just one – Olga Butkevych, also from Ukraine. Wrestling at the Games is divided into two disciplines – freestyle and Greco-Roman. These are further split into different weight caregories.
Men compete in both disciplines, with women taking part in the freestyle events. The Olympic wrestling competition gets underway on August 5.