Even a career-threatening knee injury couldn’t stop Indian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt’s dream to win an Olympic medal at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
Indian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt’s illustrious career saw him scale several highs but the accomplishment that truly turned him into a household name was winning the bronze medal in the 60kg freestyle category at the London 2012 Olympics.
Besides being a landmark moment for Indian sporting history, Yogeshwar Dutt’s Olympic medal was also the realisation of a personal dream – one earned through blood, sweat and tears.
Looking back, here’s how Yogeshwar Dutt’s Indian Olympic dream came to fruition.
Born in a village called Bhainswal Kalan in Sonipat, Haryana, to a family of teachers, Yogeshwar Dutt was associated with the sport of wrestling from a young age inspired by Balraj pehlwan – a local grappler.
I got to know about the Olympics only in 1996. I remember asking my father about it after I saw Leander Paes on TV and he told me about the Olympics
Eight years later, the wrestler would go on to participate in his debut Olympics at Athens 2004.
The inexperienced 21-year-old, however, ended up on the wrong side of his bouts against Azerbaijan’s Namig Abdullayev - a two-time Olympic and a four-time World Championships medallist – and Japan’s Chikara Tanabe - the eventual bronze medallist from that year.
Heading into the Beijing 2008, the Indian wrestler gathered momentum. He clinched gold at the 2005 Commonwealth Wrestling Championships.
And despite losing his father shortly before the 2006 Asian Games, Yogeshwar Dutt won the bronze medal in Doha.
He then won the gold medal at the Asian Championship in 2008 to secure his spot at Beijing Olympics.
At the main event, Yogeshwar Dutt reached the quarter-finals but saw his medal dreams dashed after a loss to Japan’s Kenichi Yumoto.
However, his heartbreak and watching fellow Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar win the bronze in the 66kg event only strengthened Yogeshwar Dutt’s resolve to win a medal for his country.
“It was right then that I had made up my mind to win a medal for the country in the next Olympics,” Dutt said.
Yogeshwar Dutt won the gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi but his road to London was far from smooth.
A severe knee injury in 2009 seriously hampered his preparation. Yogeshwar Dutt said the next few years were the toughest, both psychologically and physically, in his life. He was even told his career could be over.
Despite making a champions’ return at the Commonwealth Games, Dutt was sidelined again for six months owing to a back injury.
I never lost hope though. The thought of the Olympic medal drove me on and so did the love of wrestling.
In the Olympic year, however, Yogeshwar Dutt won the gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships to set himself up for a medal charge at London.
At the main event, Yogeshwar Dutt made a winning start, beating Bulgaria’s Anatolie Ilarionovitch Guidea 3-1 in his first bout. In the pre-quarterfinals, however, the Indian wrestler went down to Russia’s Besik Kudukhov – a four time world champion.
But with Kudukhov making it to the final, Yogeshwar Dutt had another shot at an Olympic medal through repechage rounds.
Having sustained an eye-injury in the match against Kudukhov, Yogeshwar Dutt had to tackle some of the best in the world within 45 minutes with his vision severely limited due to considerable swelling over his right eye – not an easy task by any means.
“In the Olympics we can't worry about injuries. We have to get out and fight," he said.
Yogeshwar Dutt defeated Puerto Rico’s Franklin Gomez and Iran’s Masoud Esmaeilpour in the first and second repechage rounds, respectively, to set up a bronze medal bout against North Korea’s Ri Jong-Myong.
Yogeshwar Dutt lost the first round against Myong but the Indian roared back to win the second to level 1-1.
With everything riding on the third and deciding round, both grapplers patiently waited for their opportunity but it was Yogeshwar Dutt who eventually came out on top.
Around 40 seconds into the round, Yogeshwar Dutt managed to catch his opponent off guard and managed to execute his trademark 'fitlle' move – which involves locking onto the opponent’s legs and rolling him around continuously - to earn points.
Myong had no counter for Yogeshwar Dutt’s signature hold and the single move enabled the Indian to secure the bronze medal. All this with a swollen eye.
And despite his dodgy knee, Yogeshwar Dutt’s celebrations included a couple of somersaults and a cartwheel.
Since my childhood, I always wanted to win an Olympic medal… The victory is what gives you the recognition after all.
On the back of his London triumph, he was conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2012 and the Padma Shri in 2013.
“All that I have achieved is because of wrestling,” Yogeshwar Dutt said several years later. “My Olympics bronze medal will remain the best moment of my life.”