The heroes of Beijing 2008

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Jul 31, 2020, 03.13 PM(IST) Written By: Digvijay Singh Deo Edited By: Subhayan Chakraborty

The heroes of Beijing 2008 Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

In an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh recalled the historic 2008 Beijing Games while explaining how it changed their lives and sporting scenario in the country. 

Sporting scenario in India completely changed after the country’s unparalleled success in the Beijing Olympics. While Abhinav Bindra clinched India’s first individual gold medal in the Games, Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh bagged bronze in men’s freestyle wrestling and boxing events respectively. It was the first time in the history of Olympics that India won three medals - a historic event for the entire nation. 

In an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh recalled the historic 2008 Beijing Games while explaining how it changed their lives and sporting scenario in the country. 

Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh

Sushil remains the only Indian sportsperson to have won two Olympic medals. The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna-awardee remembered how his coach taugh him to be humble while adding that those three medals in Beijing Olympics changed the outlook of Indian sport.

“I consider it an honour to have won medals for India. My coach Satpal taught me to be humble and to focus on my sport. No one believed we could win Olympic medals in 2008 but those 3 medals changed the outlook of Indian sport. Today every young sportsperson wants to win a gold at the Olympics,” Sushil told WION. 

Whereas Vijender said that both Abhinav Bindra and Sushil deserve Bharat Ratna for what they have done for the country and added that it would be a motivating aspect for budding sportspersons if the duo is awarded with India’s highest civilian honour.

“Abhinav bindra and Sushil deserve the Bharat Ratna for the achievements. I do not want to go into the past and which sportsperson deserves it more but it would be very motivating for budding sportspersons if these two are awarded India’s highest civilian honour. They are fully deserving of this respect,” Vijender told WION.

Sushil Kumar

In an interesting insight, Sushil revealed how Leander Paes’ bronze medal at 1996 Atlanta Olympics inspired him to become an Olympic medallist. Whereas for Vijender, it was Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver at Athens Olympics, which motivated him to be an Olympic medallist.

Our coach always told Yogeshwar Dutt and me that we have to win Olympic medals. But we had no idea what the Olympics meant or what an Olympic medal signified. Leander paes set an example in 1996 and that changed our complete focus as sportspersons. And now a new generation wants to emulate our success after seeing us on the medal podium,” recalled Sushil.

“I was 18-year-old when I qualified for Athens and I had to shave to look mature. I was blown over by the spectacle of the Olympics and had enjoyed myself thoroughly taking in the sights and sounds of the city. I saw how Rathore was celebrated after his medal and that told me that I had to win a medal to make a name. That was when I devoted myself to the target of winning an Olympic medal,” Vijender revealed.

The life of an Olympic medallist changes overnight and the same happened to Vijender and Sushil as they returned home amid a rousing reception and countless felicitation ceremonies. 

“God has been kind. We both come from families that were not financially well-off and at times i am grateful to god for all that has come our way. The Olympic medal changed our lives and today young wrestlers who come from similar backgrounds look at us and believe that they too can emulate our success,” said Sushil.

“I have led life on my own terms. I won the Olympic medal due to my hard work and talent. I did not owe it to anyone and did what my heart told me,” said an ever-confident Vijender.

When asked how Indian sport changed between the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Vijender said the phase brought a lot more limelight to Olympic athletes and Indian sport never looked back after that.

“A lot changed! There was space for Olympic athletes on the back pages that was usually reserved for cricket. The media interest grew and that sparked interest in a new generation of sport persons. Indian sport has not looked back ever since,” said Vijender. 

Vijender Singh

The Rio Olympics witnessed India won just two medals with three Indians missing the podium narrowly at fourth. When asked whether the growth is a part of the legacy of Olympic medallists, Sushil said Olympic sports changed in India changed after 2008 and the youngsters blazing into the scene show how the gap has narrowed down completely. 

“Olympic sports has changed in India after 2008. We are contending in sports that earlier we had no history in. Dipa Karmakar's 4th place finish in gymnastics at Rio was a bolt from the blue but it showed that the gap has narrowed down completely. We have world-class infrastructure now and that produces a new generation of champions,” Sushil concluded.