Yogeshwar Dutt: Former mud wrestler gripped by Olympic dream

Story highlights

  • Yogeshwar Dutt is an Indian wrestler who won bronze at the 2012 Olympics
  • The 32-year-old has also won two Commonwealth Games gold medals
  • Dutt began wrestling in traditional mud pits when he was eight
  • Graduated to mats in his teens; His success has helped raise profile of wrestling in India
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(CNN)The popular image of wrestling may be of WWE superstars pretending to fight each other in luridly-colored spandex but Yogeshwar Dutt's version of the sport has a much more earthy appeal.

With a battle-worn face that wears the story a thousand bouts and more, the Indian freestyle wrestler has risen from the mud wrestling pits of rural India to produce moments of unscripted theater on crash mats around the world.
Today, Dutt is warming up inside the Chaudhary Devi Lal Stadium complex tumbling across a padded floor in preparation for some training bouts overseen by his coach.
    The vast gymnasium in the town of Sonipat, a few miles north of New Delhi has become a center of excellence for Indian wrestling in recent times with the 32-year-old becoming one of the country's most celebrated mat men.
    It might be easy to attribute his success -- Dutt is a double Commonwealth Games champion and an Olympic bronze medalist -- to his impressive, muscle-bound physique, but wrestling isn't just about throwing your weight around, he argues. It's also requires brain power.
    "Wrestling is very different compared to other sports. It requires equal use of power as well as equal use of mind," Dutt told CNN's Human to Hero series.
    "It is usually said that wrestlers do not have a sharp mind, but the wrestler (has to) use their brain really well ... you have to take a decision to attack or defend within a second."
    The indoor facility he trains in is a world away from the traditional open-air mud wrestling pit -- called Akhada -- in his home village of Bhainswal Kalan.
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    Dutt took up the sport when he was eight years old, learning an ancient form of wrestling called Pehlwani in the mud before switching to mats during his teenage years.
    During his time in the sport Dutt says wrestling's popularity in India has surged.
    "I have seen the difference of day and night. When I was small there was a mud pit wrestling area in my village and not a mat," he says.
    "There was no infrastructure and facilities when we used to wrestle, but today many have turned professional and now everyone wants to be an Olympic or World champion," he added.
    "The most important thing is wrestling was the game of the village and now it has reached the city. And now the people in the city like to play and see wrestling."
    The sport's growing profile has been aided by Dutt's success and that of his contemporary Sushil Kumar, a former world champion and Olympic silver medalist.
    "I've known Sushil from the days I started going to the Akhada and we used to meet each other in national matches," he said.
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    "We have been friends for the past 18 years. We have changed the mind set on wrestling in India with our friendship -- that is a really big thing."
    While Kumar has enjoyed the more successful career to date, Dutt may now be entering a golden period.
    Last year was particularly fruitful as Dutt clinched a second Commonwealth Games title in Glasgow, Scotland in August before making history at the Asian Games the following month.
    When Dutt beat Tajikistan's Zalimkhan Yusupov in the final of the 65 kg freestyle final in South Korea he ended an Indian wrestling drought, winning the country's first gold medal at the Games in 28 years.
    It was an emotional moment for Dutt who dedicated the win to his father who died shortly before the 2006 Asian Games held in Doha, Qatar.
    "It was my father's dream that I wrestle for the country and make the name of the country proud," Dutt said.
    Dutt's recent good run might have come earlier had he not been plagued by injuries.
    His cauliflower ears are testament to a life spent grappling with opponents -- head, neck and back injuries have all sidelined him for extended periods. But it was injuries to his knees that have threatened to permanently derail his career.
    Tears to both the anterior and medial cruciate ligament of his right knee following the 2008 Beijing Olympics required two operations and 10 months out of the sport.
    Dutt completed a triumphant return to action in 2010 winning the Commonwealth Games title and won a bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London before another knee injury saw him sit out 2013.
    "There was lot of pressure on me that I have to win a medal in 2012 because you have a dream and if a man comes so close to his dream and then (fails) it is very painful. I go with a mind set that I have to win and if you win only then will the name of the country be known."
    Achieving a podium at the Olympics -- India won just six medals in 2012 -- has earned Dutt a degree of personal fame in his homeland along with some other perks.
    In 2012, his local government in Haryana awarded him cash and land following his Olympic success and the following year he was recognized on a national level when he was the recipient of a Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award.
    His sights are now firmly set on preparing for one final push for Olympic gold in Rio next year.
    "Now that I have won gold at the Asian Games, I will try to win gold at the Olympics and dedicate it to my father," he said.