London: Wrestler Sushil Kumar Sunday became the first individual athlete from India to win back-to-back medals at the Olympics after settling for silver in the men’s 66kg freestyle event, ending the country’s campaign in London Games with the best ever haul of six medals.
Sushil ran out of steam against Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu, losing 1-3 in what was his fourth fight of the day.
The silver here meant an improvement from his Beijing show four years ago when his bronze medal increased wrestling’s popularity in India by leaps and bounds and overnight made him a star.
His silver was India’s fourth wrestling medal in the Olympics and second in London after his childhood friend Yogeshwar Dutt won a bronze in the 60kg freestyle event Saturday. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won the country’s first medal in the sport at the 1952 Helsinki edition.
The other Indians who shone in the London Games were shooters Vijay Kumar (silver) and Gagan Narang (bronze), boxer M.C. Mary Kom (bronze) and badminton star Saina Nehwal (bronze), doubling India’s medals tally from the Beijing edition where it had won three medals.
Sushil was tipped to win the gold after knocking out defending champion Ramazan Sahin of Turkey in the opening round.
He then got the better of Uzbek Ikhtiyor Navruzov and Kazakh Akzhurek Tanatarov to muscle his way into the title clash.
But when the moment arrived, he looked jaded and his fresher opponent took advantage of that. Going into the fight, Sushil had played nine periods while Yonemitsu seven.
Yonemitsu, a silver medallist at the World Championships last year, won the first period 1-0 and displayed his dominance in the second by lifting Sushil and putting him down on the mat. The move earned him three points and he won the period 4-1 and thereby the gold.
En route to the final, Sushil edged out Tanatarov 3-1 in a thrilling semi-final.
Tanatarov seemed the likely winner during the third and final period before Sushil fought back through grit and experience.
With the Kazakh leading 3-0, Sushil came up with brilliant moves to leave Tanatarov reeling on the mat. The contest ended with the Indian winning the period 6-3 and his opponent bleeding from the right ear.
Sushil had won the first period 3-0 and Kazakh levelled the fight in the second with the same scoreline.
The 2010 World Champion entered the last four beating Navruzov 3-1.
Sushil could have wrapped up the fight in period 2 but Navruzov turned the tables on him with six seconds remaining.
Sushil got the measure of his opponent in period 3, winning it 2-0 to seal the contest.
The 29-year-old started the day in a scintillating fashion, dismissing the Beijing gold medallist, Ramazan Sahin.