Fall of Sushil Kumar: Two-time Olympic medalist to alleged murderer  

The Olympian has been accused of murdering a young wrestler over a property dispute; The Federal chronicles Sushil Kumar’s journey from the ramparts of world-renowned stadiums to the alleged bylanes of crime

Jitender Kumar, Sushil Kumar, 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Indian wresling, wrestlers, Amit Dhankar, Asian Championship trials
On August 20, 2008, Sushil Kumar, then 25, made India proud by winning an Olympic medal in wrestling after 58 years, at the Beijing Olympics. File Photo: PTI

After being on the Delhi Police’s ‘most wanted’ list and carrying a reward of ₹1 lakh on his head for almost three weeks, two-time Olympic medal winning wrestler Sushil Kumar was arrested on Sunday, in the murder of a 23-year-old wrestler at Chhatrasal Stadium.

Sagar Dhankar, the 23-year-old was killed in a clash between two groups of wrestlers at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium on May 4, while Sonu Mahal, Amit Kumar and the other two wrestlers were badly injured.

After the incident, Dr Gurikbal Singh Sidhu, DCP (North-West Delhi) said an FIR and preliminary investigation report filed by Delhi Police sub-inspector Jitendra Singh showed that Sushil Kumar and his associates were involved in the crime. Sagar was the son of a head constable of Delhi Police.

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While there is no clarity on the reason behind the clash, some newspaper reports said it pertained to minor money transaction issue related to Sushil Kumar’s property dealings. The reports said that Sagar used to live in a flat belonging to Sushil Kumar’s wife and had vacated it without paying the wrestler two months’ rent. The standoff erupted when Sushil Kumar demanded the rent from Sagar and the latter refused.

After getting Sushil Kumar’s custody, police told the court that the wrestler had filmed the clash and Sagar’s murder to terrorize the wrestling community.

In an interview with Dainik Bhaskar, Sagar’s father Ashok Dhankar while accusing Sushil Kumar for the murder, said his son was killed by a man he idolized.

Who is Sushil Kumar?

On August 20, 2008, Sushil Kumar, then 25, made India proud by ending the 56-year wait for an Olympic medal in wrestling – he won a bronze in the men’s 66-kg freestyle wrestling event at the Beijing Olympics.

He was second-most to wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav who won a bronze in 1952 at the Summer Olympics in Helsinki. For his contribution to sports, Sushil Kumar was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting award.

Born on May 26, 1983 in a lower-middle-class family in Baprola village of South West Delhi, Sushil Kumar got the inspiration for wrestling from his father, who was a wrestler before taking a job as a driver in MTNL, Delhi. At the age of 14, Sushil Kumar was sent to Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium, considered a Mecca for wrestlers in India, for training.

He won gold in World Cadet Games in 1998 and Asian Junior Wrestling Championship in 2000. But his first major success came in 2003 when he won a bronze medal in Asia Wrestling Championship followed by a gold in Commonwealth Wrestling Championship (CWC).

After a successful run, he failed horribly in the 2004 Olympics in Athens where he finished in 14th position. He, however, managed to win a gold medal at CWC in 2005 after which he was awarded the Arjuna Award. He won gold at CWC 2007 as well.

“Even before winning a medal in the 2008 Olympics, Sushil was an exceptional athlete. He was made for wrestling. He was always a second ahead of his rivals. But the 2008 Olympics medal awarded him with that name and fame that he deserved. He started getting love from all over the country,” said Gyan Singh, one of the coaches of Sushil Kumar.

The making of a star

After the 2008 Olympics, there was no looking back for Sushil Kumar. He was hailed as one of the greatest wrestlers and masters of the game. His popularity was such that on October 3, 2010, he handed the Queen’s Baton to Prince Charles in the 2010 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in New Delhi.

“When the then chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dixit and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi arrived in the stadium, the crowd started booing them because of the Commonwealth scam. The Queen’s Baton is like a stepping stone to the Commonwealth games. It is a ritual followed in the opening ceremony of commonwealth games,” said Gyan.

“The Queen’s Baton was passed from boxer Vijender Singh to boxer Mary Kom who then passed it on to Samresh Jung. Samresh gave it to Sushil who finally handed it over to Prince Charles. But when Sushil was running with that Baton in the stadium, the crowd rejoiced. Such popularity was either seen when Sachin Tendulkar walked into the stadium for batting or when Sushil was running with the baton.”

RS Hooda, vice-president of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), says Sushil Kumar’s boy-next-door image helped him strike a chord with the average Indian.

“A boy from a lower-middle-class family earned an Olympic medal because of his hard work. The people of India started relating to him. He is like the boy next door. He was a role model for everyone in Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The elderly used to treat him like their own children and youth like an inspiration,” Hooda said.

In 2010, Sushil Kumar won gold in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Championship and World Wrestling Championship. At the World Wrestling Championships, he became the first Indian to win a world title in wrestling. After winning every possible title, the next aim was to bag gold in the 2012 Olympics in London.

He was India’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremony of the Olympics 2012. Sushil Kumar managed to win a silver medal in the event, but he became India’s only individual two-time Olympic medalist.

“At a time when people were crazy about cricket and didn’t bother to watch any other game, Sushil made them watch his games. When cricket dominated television programmes, Sushil compelled broadcasters to churn out content on wrestling as well. He brought a massive change in wrestling. I saw people crying after Sushil lost the 2012 Olympics,” Hooda said.

The weight game

After the 2012 Olympics, Sushil Kumar, who had won all the medals in the 66 kg category till then, suddenly decided to change the category to 74 kg. The decision came after the United World Wrestling scrapped the 60 kg and 66 kg categories to introduce the 65 kg category in its Olympics programme.

The wrestler used to fight in the 66 kg category while Yogeshwar Dutt used to be in the 60 kg at that time. Sushil Kumar was indefensible in the 66 kg category. So he had a choice either to increase the weight by eight kg to enter the 74 kg category or decrease it by 1 kg to enter the 65 kg category. The likely choice was to decrease the weight by 1 kg but he chose otherwise.

Sources said that Sushil Kumar left the 66 kg category to avoid facing off against Yogeshwar Dutt, who was his best friend as well. “This wasn’t an easy decision. It took me and my Guruji (Mahabali Satpal) two weeks to finally decide on increasing my weight category. In fact, Guruji wanted me to compete in the 65 kg category as it was the closest to my weight category and increasing 8 kg is no joke,” Sushil Kumar had told Headlines Today in 2014.

“It wasn’t a question of avoiding facing off Yogeshwar Dutt. Lowering two kg is equally or even more difficult to do and I have got injured maintaining the same weight category in the past. But yes, this decision will enable India to field two best wrestlers for the Rio Olympics,” Sushil Kumar had said.

In the 74 kg category too, Sushil Kumar won the gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. But later, Sushil got stiff competition from Narsingh Yadav in the 74 kg category.

Narsingh Yadav vs Sushil Kumar

The fight between wrestler Narsingh Yadav and Sushil Kumar started to dominate the lone spot of the 74 kg category in the 2016 Rio Olympics. On one hand, there was Sushil Kumar, who had won two Olympic medals for India, and on the other, was Narsingh Yadav, who won an Olympic quota for India after winning a bronze medal in the 2015 World Championship. Sushil Kumar could not participate in that event due to a shoulder injury.

Sushil Kumar insisted that a trial be held to determine who should represent India in Rio. WFI promised the trials but later refused. Sushil Kumar took the legal road by approaching the Delhi High Court, but his petition was dismissed. He couldn’t participate in the Rio Olympics.

After Sushil Kumar’s appeal was rejected, it was confirmed that Narsingh would go to Rio. However, Narsingh failed two anti-doping tests. He tested positive for methandienone, which he asserted was to “sabotage” his chances of competing at the Olympics, following which he was given a clean chit by the National Anti-Doping Agency.

But the World Anti-Doping Agency later challenged the decision and the case was moved to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). A day prior to Narsingh’s first bout at the Olympics, on August 18, 2016, CAS handed him a four-year ban.

Narsingh accused Sushil Kumar of adulteration in food and drink.

Money, power and success 

After Narsingh got banned, the road for Sushil Kumar to represent India in the 74 kg category was clear. He won gold in the 2017 CWC and 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth games. But during the trial of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, there was a fight between supporters of Sushil Kumar and wrestler Praveen Rana. Praveen Rana also accused Sushil Kumar of assaulting him.

According to sources, Sushil Kumar and his father-in-law Satpal Singh completely boycotted WFI and made their own lobby that was against the federation. Sushil Kumar’s tussle with Brij Bhushan Sharan, president of the Wrestling Federation of India and BJP MP in 2016, started when the Federation selected Narasimha for the Olympics instead of him.

Those who know Sushil Kumar closely say he used to keep a gun for hobby and would fire just for fun. There were allegations that Sushil Kumar had taken the contract for the toll of MCD and Sunder Bhati, a gangster, used to operate it but the wrestler’s name did not come directly in such cases.

Sources claimed that Sushil Kumar has different faces. They say that once a small accident occurred in front of him and Sushil Kumar said something to the bouncer, who in turn got out of the car and beat the man involved in the accident.

“But he used to touch the feet of elders. He used to help people and even those in administration praise him. This is the image that he had created. But there is also a second image in which he looks drunk in money, power and success,” the sources added.

Lately, Sushil was preparing for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. He was quoted by The Indian Express saying, “There is enough wrestling left in me. I will definitely try to win a gold for India in the 2021 Olympics.”

“Small fights keep going on between the federation, wrestlers and coaches, but such an incident has never happened. We are very sad and disappointed. This brings shame to our entire wrestling fraternity,” Hooda said.

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