Ravi Dahiya has added his name to the list of Indian wrestling greats by assuring himself a medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the most dramatic of fashions on Wednesday.
His sensational performance in the semi-finals against Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev will be remembered for years as he came back from 2-9 down to earn a victory by fall and reach the gold medal match in men’s 57kg freestyle. The fight he showed on his Olympic debut proved to the world just how special a wrestling talent he is.
He had won both his previous bouts on technical superiority en route the semi-final. Dahiya outclassed Colombia’s Tigreros Urbano (13-2) in his opener and then outwitted Bulgaria’s Georgi Valentinov Vangelov (14-4).
The two-time Asian Championship winner is only the second Indian wrestler to qualify for a gold medal clash at the Olympic Games after Sushil Kumar in 2012.
To those who have seen the 23-year-old come up the ranks, this performance doesn’t come as much of a surprise. In the last couple of years, he has given proof of his talent, the most striking being the bronze medals at his senior debut at the 2019 Wrestling World Championships.
Considered a darkhorse ahead of Tokyo 2020, he also came into the event in good form. In April this year, Dahiya returned to the mat after a year with a solid performance to retain his Asian Championship title in Almaty, giving India its first freestyle gold medal at the event. He had last competed at this event in New Delhi where he had won gold.
At the Poland Open, the last Ranking Series event before the Tokyo Games, he clinched a silver in the 61kg category (different from his Olympic category.) It was just his second event of the year but an indication of his momentum and confidence.
Ravi Dahiya's career achievements
|World U23 Wrestling Championships||-||1||-|
“I had no business conceding that much lead against Sanayev. I am not happy with it,” Dahiya told PTI when asked about his stunning finale.
It just shows the kind of standards the Indian has set for himself.
“I have beaten Sanayev twice before, so I knew I can pull it off despite trailing by a huge margin. I was assured inside, but I should not have conceded lead and made it a close fight. That was pretty bad of me,” he said.
Earlier, he had become the first Indian male wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, capping off a memorable senior debut at the World Championships with a bronze medal after a win against Reza Atri of Iran. Before Dahiya’s first appearance at the Worlds, he had won silver at the 2015 junior worlds followed by another silver at the 2018 cadet worlds.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya's international results
|Date||Competition||Age Group||Weight Class||Rank|
|2021-07-31||Olympic Games||Seniors||57.0||1 / 2|
|2021-06-08||RS - Waclaw Ziolkowski Memorial||Seniors||61.0||2.|
|2020-01-15||RS - Matteo Pellicone Tourrnament||Seniors||61.0||1.|
|2019-08-09||Alexander Medved Prizes||Seniors||57.0||3.|
|2019-03-01||RS - Dan Kolov - Nikola Petrov Tournamen||Seniors||61.0||12.|
|2019-01-09||Pro Wrestling League||Seniors||Team||1.|
|2018-12-13||Club World Championship||Seniors||Team||7.|
Even back then, he was confident of a medal in Tokyo. “I don’t think anyone can match me in stamina. It’s not just about qualification for Olympics alone, I think I can win a medal,” Dahiya had told Scroll.in in an interview in 2019.
Interestingly, he lost to Zavur Uguev of Russia, the eventual champion and his final opponent in Tokyo, then. But even in a losing cause, Dahiya showcased one of his strongest abilities – stamina and resilience.
The Indian fought back from 0-6 down but the bout ended 6-3 in the favour of the Russian. It was Dahiya’s first appearance at the senior World Championships and that experience will be crucial to his final bout in Tokyo.
The wrestler hails from Nahri in Sonipat, Haryana and is a product of the famed Chhatarsal stadium – a background as strong as any. Olympian Amit Dahiya also hails from the same village and has been a mentor. He joined the Delhi stadium in 2009, leaving home when he was just a young boy, and as of 2019 had only been home for a few days in 10 years and was barely able to call home because of not having a phone.
Coming from a humble family, he’s had to work his way up with hard yards and sacrifices. His father is a farmer and his mother a housewife and there have been times when his father had to borrow from others to feed his family.
Here’s a brief of his early career from a 2019 profile by Scroll.in
The financial woes didn’t affect Dahiya; he took solace in wrestling.
After his silver in 2015, Dahiya had some low results and also injured his knee. He won a bronze medal at the senior nationals in 2017 but had to sit out for most part of the 2018 because of another knee injury. But when he returned, he dominated his weight category in India.
At the 2018 U23 World Championships, he won the silver medal, won every bout at the World Cup, was undefeated in the Pro Wrestling League and booked his spot for the Asian Championships where he finished fifth after losing to Takahashi.
On Thursday, he will be going for the biggest dream of an athlete – an Olympic gold. No matter how that bout ends, Dahiya has etched his name in Indian sports history with his appearance in the final and the flair with which he reached there.