The 28-year-old is all set to make his Olympics debut in Tokyo.

Sumit Malik has been tipped to become the next big name in the Indian wrestling circuit for quite some time now. It looks like he is finally living up to the billing after securing his place in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics recently. He became the fourth Indian male wrestler to book his spot in the upcoming Games and now looks ahead to reaching even greater heights.

We take a look at Sumit Malik’s journey from his childhood to clinching a coveted Olympics quota. Here are five interesting things about his life:

5. Maternal uncle, his inspiration

Born in Karor village in the Rohtak district of Haryana, Sumit Malik was a child happily living in his village. But his life suddenly took a turn after the passing of his mother. His maternal grandparents took him to Delhi after that.

Incidentally, Malik’s maternal uncle Narender Sherawat was a wrestler, and he insisted young Sumit have a go at it. Listening to stories about wrestling and his uncle’s bouts inspired him and Malik decided to try his hand in wrestling. His uncle introduced him to the sport and took him to the site where he himself practised.

4. Chhatrasal Stadium, the holy abode

In 2007 at the age of 13, Sumit Malik first stepped into the legendary Chhatrasal Stadium. The stadium in North Delhi, built in the early 1980s, is named after Maharaja Chhatrasal. It has produced renowned wrestlers such as Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and Amit Kumar Dahiya.

It is here that Sumit Malik took his first steps as a wrestler. The initial days were tough with Malik finding it difficult to get his grip on the sport. That made him question his career choice. However, his wrestling career took off after winning the gold medal in the 96kg weight category in the Junior Asian Championships in 2013.

Even today, whenever Malik is in India he goes to the Chhatrasal Stadium to train under the careful supervision of his coach Virender Singh. This is the site that made him the wrestler that he is today, and he rightly acknowledges that. Sumit Malik’s Olympic qualification is yet another feather in the cap of this famous breeding ground in Delhi.

3. Injuries and bad luck, the stumbling blocks

Sumit Malik’s biggest hurdle over the years has been his injuries. An old knee injury resurfaced in the recently concluded World Olympic qualifiers, due to which Malik had to surrender the gold medal match.

In 2016, a severe back injury had dearly costed him. He was close to sealing a place in Rio Olympics. Even after losing in the qualification round, he remained in contention via the repechage rounds. But the back injury would not let him stand, let alone wrestle at an Olympic qualifying event.

He could not even stay at the venue and got back straight to the hotel and slept. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) did not take his actions lightly and misunderstood the incident, banning him from participating in the remaining qualifying tournaments. To further complicate matters, the doctor warned him not to wrestle again if he wanted to walk.

But Sumit Malik has always been a fighter and he was not one to easily give up. He called up two-time Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar to aid him in his recovery after coming back from the hospital. Kumar did not turn him down and both of them started training at the Chhatrasal Stadium.

2. 2018 Commonwealth Games, the belief grows stronger

Buoyed by the motivation to show people his abilities, Sumit Malik made his comeback less than a year later. He was competing in the 2017 Asian Wrestling Championships at the KD Jadhav Indoor Stadium, New Delhi.

In his opening match, he ousted Japan’s Taiki Yamamoto by 6-3. An even more commanding performance in the semi-finals followed against Farkhod Anakulov of Tajikistan, winning by a margin of 7-2. Despite a loss in the final, a silver medal in the prestigious continental competition was a morale-booster. After that, the National Wrestling Championships title was picked up without much fuss.

The Commonwealth Games 2018 arrived, and Sumit Malik travelled to Gold Coast with the impetus to grab a medal in a major international competition. In his first match, he received a walkover. Then came a closely fought contest against the defending champion, Canada’s Korey Jarvis. Malik was not fazed by his opponent’s stature and went on to record a 6-4 victory. In the semis, Pakistan’s Tayab Raza was comfortably beaten by 10-4, before Nigerian Sinivie Boltic forfeited the final due to an injury.

Sumit Malik’s self-belief had finally triumphed. His fighting spirit was duly recognized when he picked up the Arjuna Award later that year.

1. The best in his category, Tokyo awaits

At the Asian qualifiers at Almaty, Kazakhstan in April, Sumit Malik lost out in the semis. A quarter-finals defeat in the subsequent Asian Wrestling Championships followed. When he boarded the flight to Sofia for the World Wrestling Qualifiers little did anyone give him a chance. He knew he had one last chance to get that coveted ticket. He also knew that he had to overcome several challenges against equally hungry world-class opponents. There was certainly no room for error.

Malik started the campaign after winning by the slimmest of margins. Last year’s World Cup bronze medallist Aiaal Lazarev of Kyrgyzstan was beaten after a 2-2 win on criteria (he scored the last point). He pulled off a similar win over Alexandr Romonov of Moldova. In the quarters, Malik would once again make a comeback after trailing 2-4 against Rustam Iskandri of Tajikistan to win 10-5. In the semi-final bout, Venezuelan Jose Diaz Robertti suffered a comprehensive 5-0 defeat.

His win sounds more impressive, given the fact that he fought the entire campaign with a knee injury. He took painkillers and literally fought on one knee. The injury meant Malik’s movement, especially the lower body had to be restricted. He focused on upper-body moves which meant he had to constantly think about his feet. There was a chance of aggravating the injury but the risk was worth it.

Sumit Malik thus became the first Indian in 17 years to qualify for the Olympics in the super-heavyweight 125kg weight category. He follows in the footsteps of Palwinder Singh Cheema, who had competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Malik is now part of an elite group of eight Indian wrestlers who will represent India in Tokyo. Who knows where his self-belief could take him!

For more updates, follow Khel Now on TwitterInstagram and join our community on Telegram.