When Yogeshwar Dutt had first walked into an akhara (wrestling centre) as a seven-year-old in his village in Haryana, he had little idea about the Olympics.
In fact, the wide-eyed child’s only aim was to become big and famous like a local wrestler in his village, named Balraj. However, even that seemed a vague dream to work towards.
“I didn’t know how to become famous,” Yogeshwar Dutt revealed in the Medal of Glory show streamed by Sony Sports on their Facebook page.
“I had no knowledge about what the nationals or the Olympics were. I just went there because I liked it,” he reasoned.
Leander Paes Olympic success sets Dutt on path
In fact, it was a whole different ball game that kickstarted Dutt's Olympic dream.
It happened when Leander Paes became an overnight sensation in the country following his bronze medal feat at the Atlanta Games, which was India’s first Olympic medal after 16 years.
“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,” recalls Yogeshwar Dutt.
“It used to be a big thing for a sportsperson to be featured on TV at that time,” he added.
Progress hampered by injuries
While Yogeshwar Dutt ended up competing at the Olympics eight years later, making his first appearance at Athens 2004, his dream of winning a medal was still a long way off.
After the 2004 Olympics breezed past a young and inexperienced Yogeshwar Dutt, the wrestler came back wiser and stronger at the Beijing Games with three Commonwealth Championships gold medals and an Asian Games bronze medal in his kitty.
“I had prepared well for the Beijing Games and reached the quarter-finals. But I had lost my bout by just one point in the last 7-8 seconds,” Yogeshwar Dutt said.
“It was right then that I had made up my mind to win a medal for the country in the next Olympics.”
His preparations, though, were soon jolted by a series of injuries.
Yogeshwar Dutt suffered a knee injury in 2009 and had to undergo a surgery in South Africa that stopped his training for six months. It was followed by a serious back injury in 2010 that kept him out for a long period yet again.
“The biggest challenge has been returning from injuries. There was a time I was unable to compete for almost a year due to an injury,” he pointed out.
Fulfilling the Olympic dream
By the time Yogeshwar Dutta had qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London, he had a gold medal from the 2010 Commonwealth Games and two gold medals from the Asian Championships as well.
However, playing his third Olympics this time, the experienced wrestler was pitted into a tough group that had some of the top wrestlers of the world.
“I was clubbed with five-time World Champion Besik Kudukhov of Russia, World Championships silver medallist Franklin Gomez from Puerto and 2010 Asian Champion Masoud Esmaeilpour of Iran among others,” said the Indian grappler.
But Yogeshwar Dutt knew that beating the best was the only way of getting an Olympic medal and he was mentally prepared for it.
After losing to Besik Kudukhov in the pre-quarterfinals, the Indian wrestler knew he would get another shot at a medal.
“I lost to Kudokhov by one point in the second bout. But I knew that he would make it to the finals as he was the five-time world champion,” Dutt said.
“I knew this was my last chance to win the Olympic medal.
“In the next 45 minutes, I contested and won three bouts to win an Olympic medal,” the wrestler added.
In the repechage round, Yogeshwar Dutt had overcome challenges from Franklin Gomez and Masoud Esmaeilpour, before beating North Korea’s Ri Jong-Myong to clinch the bronze medal.
“I have dreamt of it since 1996 when Leander Paes had won it,” Yogeshwar Dutt said, reminiscing where it all began.