7 years since her CWG silver, Sushila Devi is set to make her Olympics debut in Tokyo
A look into Sushila Devi Likmabam's career who will be the lone Indian judoka to participate in the Tokyo Olympics
It was a watershed moment for the nation when a 16-year-old Thangjam Tababi Devi won India's first Olympic-level medal in Judo as she clinched silver at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018. Cut to three years later, Tababi Devi has left the sport and disappeared into the abyss. Although, Sushila Devi Likmabam has ensured the representation of Manipur in Indian sports and India in Judo.
Becoming the only Indian Judoka to qualify for Tokyo Olympics, Sushila Devi made waves in the sporting circles across India. Sushila though is not alien to such a spotlight. She had seen it all as a 19-year old when she clinched a historic silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.
Born in east Imphal, Sushila was attracted to judo very early in her childhood. Her uncle, an international judoka himself, took a 7-year-old Shushila to Khuman Lampak, a sports complex in Imphal. She showed promise early winning laurels in various local tournaments. After turning professional, Sushila started training under Indian coach Jiwan Sharma.
Shot to Fame
Although she was a popular name in the northeast, her major shot to fame was her silver medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth games. In the gold medal bout, she lost to a Scottish Judoka Kimberley Renicks. While it was evident that her opponent was far more accomplished, Sushila believed she missed out on a gold medal. She was an 18-year-old with the heart of a lion.
After the heartbreak in the gold medal bout at the CWG, Sushila had set her sights on the Asian Games in 2018. She wanted to upgrade her medal and bring glory to the nation. A heartbreak followed another as she injured herself during the Asian Games trials. She was devastated.
"It was devastating for me. I had gone back to my home and literally didn't practice judo for almost 3 months. My coach Jiwan sir persuaded me to get back into the fold", says Sushila while speaking to The Times of India.
The sabbatical was short-lived as she came back roaring after her injury. She won a silver at the Asian Open Judo Championships in 2018 and followed it with a gold in Commonwealth Judo Championships. The international success continued as she defended her Asian Open silver medal in 2019.
Ticket to Tokyo
Very sadly, like most Indian athletes, her preparations came to a standstill when the pandemic struck. But Sushila as always was confident of a place in the contingent bound for Tokyo.
"That phase actually made me mentally strong. I practiced at home with local judokas. Covid made things really difficult for us. It was very difficult to get match practice", she says.
Although she always dreamt of that elusive berth in the Olympics, the dream seemed shattered when Indian judokas could not participate in any international tournaments with concerns of covid cases among the judokas. Due to this, Indians missed out on three qualifying tournaments in a span of three months in 2020.
But fortune favors the brave. The IOC released 10 ranking slots for Asian judokas out of which, two slots were allotted to the 48-kg category. Sushila Devi was elated as she could qualify as the highest-ranked Asian judoka from the 48-kg category.
"Qualifying for the Olympics is a dream for any athlete. I have been training day-in-day-out to cope up with the loss in training during the pandemic.", she said.
As the second wave eased out, Sushila spent a month in France, training under French Coach Rodrigue Chenet. Her coach Jiwan Sharma is adamant that her recent ordinary performances are nothing to go by.
Speaking to TOI, he says, "She will be an underdog in Tokyo but physically and mentally, she will give her 100%". Well, that's every Indian athlete for you!
After an ordinary return at the Tashkent Grand Slam earlier this year, Sushila is hungry to show her skills at Tokyo, the biggest stage of all. It remains to be seen if she can turn India's fate around in judo and make people fall in love with this ancient sport.