"People have this habit of writing me off every now and then but it does not affect me," said veteran wrestler Sushil Kumar, speaking to PTI, dismissing talk of retirement and insisting that postponement of Tokyo Olympics has given him a very good shot at qualifying for his fourth Games.
The 36-year-old was struggling to make the cut for the Olympics, but the scenario has changed with the postponement of the Games by a year, to 2021. "I am not going anywhere as of now. I have got more time and more time means better preparation," said Sushil, who turns 37 next month.
Making a comeback at the 2019 World Championship, Sushil had shown glimpses of the form that made him look invincible in his prime before he lost steam and made an early exit. That disappointment is, however, already behind him. "Wrestling is such a sport that if you manage to remain injury-free, practice well, set a target and work on that, you can have a shot at your goal," he said
"I am still practising twice a day. Obviously I am not hitting the mat but I am trying to be in shape and God willing, I will be able to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics," he added.
Sushil competes in the 74kg category in which India is yet to lock an Olympic quota, but there have been doubts over his ability. "People were saying similar things in 2011. I know how to handle this. It's my daily job to manage it," he says in response, referring to doubts cast in 2011 over his ability to repeat his Beijing's bronze medal-winning show at the 2012 Games. He ended up winning a silver in London.
The delay in Olympics has also brought Sushil's old foe Narsingh Yadav into the equation since his four-year doping ban will be over in July, making him eligible to take a shot at Olympic qualification. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has already said it will allow Narsingh to make a comeback.
Narsingh was preferred over Sushil for the 2016 Games but it all ended in disaster when the former failed a dope test. The federation as well as the Delhi High Court turned down Sushil's demand for a trial and he was even accused of sabotaging Narsingh in some quarters.
When asked about the possibility of a face off, Sushil said, "We will see when the time comes. What can I say now about this? All I can say is congratulations to Narsingh that he can restart his career. I wish him the best."
Meanwhile, when asked about the competition he is likely to face from fellow Indians, he said, "If you think small, you will achieve nothing. I am thinking about the international wrestlers, who are my likely rivals. Like there is one Uzbek, who won Asian Games gold [Bekzod Abdurakhmonov]. He is really good, my preparations are keeping in mind these wrestlers. I am keeping an eye on everyone. I am analysing everyone. If I think about the small targets, it won't lead me anywhere," he says.