By Mikaela Viqueira
New Delhi, Jun 12 (EFE).- Sushil Kumar, the first Indian athlete to win two individual Olympic medals and to win a wrestling world championship, is a legend in India’s wrestling circles, but he has fallen from grace after being accused of murder.
The 38-year-old was preparing to secure a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but is now behind bars facing charges of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy for his alleged involvement in a brawl that caused the death of his 23-year-old pupil, Sagar Dhankhar. Kumar denies the charges.
According to the police version of the incident, on May 4, Kumar and nine others beat up and severely injured three men, including Dhankhar, in a car park at Chhatarsal Stadium in New Delhi.
Dhankhar succumbed to his injuries at a hospital hours later.
The Olympic champion went into hiding, and after being pursued by the police for days across several Indian states, he was arrested on May 23, also World Wrestling Day, according to a tweet by the Delhi Police.
On Friday, the police announced the arrest of the last of the other fugitives.
Criminal defense lawyer Viraj Kadam told EFE that “the case is against” Kumar, not only because security cameras captured footage of him in the vicinity of the stadium at the time of the incident, but also for evading the law.
Kumar is awaiting trial and if convicted, could face life imprisonment, according to Kadam.
In a country dominated by cricket, it is difficult to find icons from other sports, but Kumar is one of them.
“Most children are practising wrestling because of him,” Indian Express sports journalist Mihir Vasavda told EFE, adding that “wrestling started to be taken seriously” in the country after Kumar won his first medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Kumar’s triumph drew the interest of young people to a sport that in its traditional Indian version, “kushti,” is practiced in sand pits and often has religious undertones.
However, these sand pits can sometimes lure wrestlers, usually from humble backgrounds, into a world of crime, said the journalist.
After his bronze in Beijing, in 2010 Kumar became the first Indian to win the World Wrestling Championships, and at the London Olympics in 2012 he won silver.
This year, Kumar was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics despite not managing to qualify for the weight category he wanted, and continued to train even “three or four days” before the death of Dhankhar, according to Vasavda.
The wrestler even requested special food and supplements in prison to continue preparing for tournaments, which this week was denied by a Delhi court that said they were not an “essential need or necessity.”
In a brief statement, the Wrestling Federation of India said: “We are responsible for the mat area, not outside.” However, it added that they would not renew the contracts of “many senior wrestlers.”
Kumar’s arrest is “embarrassing and surprising” for the wrestling community, former Indian wrestler Jagdish Kaliraman told EFE.
Kaliraman participated in several championships with the Olympic star and also trained a few times in the same center as him.
Although Kaliraman claimed not to have known him personally, he believed that Kumar was “a good person and a great athlete.”