Yogeshwar Dutt: Olympic medallist, mentor and more
Yogeshwar Dutt has come a long way from his modest village upbringing to being a four-time Olympian for India.
His finest hour though came in London, 2012 when he bagged a bronze to become only the third wrestler from the nation to win an Olympic medal.
The son of school teachers, Yogeshwar was drawn towards a different vocation following the exploits of a famous wrestler from his village named Balraj Pehlwan.
His parents were initially against wrestling and wanted him to also become a teacher, but Yogeshwar’s continued success at school and village level tournaments helped change their mind.
He was selected to participate in the international school cadet games in Poland as a 12-year-old; and bagged gold at that event to well and truly usher his career as a wrestler.
Two years later, Yogeshwar left his family home behind to relocate in the capital city of New Delhi for better training facilities at the Chhatrasal Stadium.
Time away from the family paid its dividends, as the youngster made his presence felt at the 1998 National Championships. He performed admirably at that event, but failed to cement his place at the highest level due to several other top wrestlers being in their prime.
A turning point in his career though came in 2003 when he won gold at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in London.
He was then selected for the subsequent 2004 Athens Olympics and finished 18th in that tournament.
Then in 2006, Yogeshwar won bronze at the Asian Games in Doha, despite having to deal with the sad loss of his father just a few months before.
Dutt followed that with gold medals at the Commonwealth Championships a year later and then in the 2008 Asian Championships, thereby qualifying for the Olympics.
With a few top accolades to his name ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, big things were expected of Yogeshwar, especially after he won his first match against Bauyrzhan Orazgaliyev to make it to the quarterfinals.
However, that proved to be the end of the road for the Indian wrestler as he was beaten by Japan’s Kenichi Yumoto.
Four years later at the London Games though, Yogeshwar managed to make his way into the history books by becoming India’s third Olympic medallist in wrestling.
He started his London sojourn with a close win over Bulgaria’s Anatolie Guidea, but then crashed out against Russia’s Besik Kudukhov in the pre-quarterfinals. However, with Kudukhov reaching the final, Yogeshwar got another lease of life and a shot at the bronze through the repechage rounds.
Here, he barely put a step wrong as the Indian beat Puerto Rico’s Franklin Gómez in the first round, brought his experience into play to dodge past a technically sound Masoud Esmaeilpour of Iran in the second and then showed great awareness to out muscle North Korea’s Ri Jong-myong to win the medal.
Winning that elusive Olympic medal further motivated Yogeshwar as he went on to win big in several other competitions.
Dutt captured gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as well as the Asian Games in Incheon later that year.
However, he was knocked out in the first round at the 2016 Rio Olympics and soon fell down the pecking order.
Soon after the Games, Dutt announced his retirement to focus on coaching, and found a diligent pupil in Bajrang Punia.
Under Yogeshwar’s tutelage, Punia has scaled new heights and will go into the World Championhips next month as one of India’s prime prospects for a medal. Apart from coaching Punia, Dutt also runs an academy in his native town of Sonipat.
For someone who was forced to relocate in search of better infrastructure, Yogeshwar is now keen on bringing the best of facilities for budding grapplers in his hometown.
The legend and the legacy of Yogeshwar Dutt are set to live on for generations to come.