It’s only been two months since Gourav Baliyan turned 18, but he has already added his name to the record books. On his debut at the senior wrestling National Championships in Jalandhar on Friday, Baliyan earned a reputation when he upset Praveen Rana in the final of the 74 kg to win the gold medal.
In a thrilling bout, Baliyan made a comeback from being 2-4 down to win 5-3 to become one of the youngest winners in this edition of the National Championships.
But Baliyan was not the only young wrestler to win a title at the Punjab Armed Police Complex as four others claimed gold medals. Rahul in 57 kg, Ravinder in 61 kg, Naveen in 70 kg and Sandeep Mann, all claiming their first senior national titles.
“I just wanted to wrestle in my sense and not think too much,” Baliyan said. “It was a great competition for me and to win the gold is great in a tough final. Overall, it was a great tournament.”
Baliyan was impressive right from the start. Ladu Jat of Rajasthan was no match for him before he moved past Arjun Yadav of Railways. Tougher competition was expected in the quarter-finals and semi-finals but Baliyan was up for the challenge. Haryana’s second-best in the category and junior Asian champion Parveen Malik was humbled 12-2. Mukul Mishra met the same fate as Baliyan roared into the final.
His coach Nirdosh Baliyan was satisfied with his ward’s performance but also wanted him to continue improving.
“He has previously lost bouts due to being too aggressive,” coach Nirdosh said. “But today he was good. He did not lose his concentration. Slowly he is maturing and using his experience to win medals.”
Baliyan won four of his five bouts via technical superiority but Ravinder did one better and won all five, including the final by the same method.
A month after winning the silver medal at the U-23 World Championships, Ravinder came into the Nationals as the favourite to win the 61 kg title but Sonaba Tanaji, Suraj Kokate and Rohan from Haryana posed challenges.
This, however, is not his first senior-level medal. Back in 2015, Ravinder won a silver medal before injuring his ACL and going for the surgery which kept him out of the game for two years. But earlier this year, he returned with a gold medal in U-23 National Championships.
“Finally, I have a gold medal at senior-level,” Ravinder said. “My training was good and I was mentally prepared. The gold means that I am on the right track.”
While Baliyan and Ravinder’s wins were expected, Mann was the surprise package of the day as he defeated Jitender of Railways in the dying seconds of the 79 kg final. Wrestling in front of the home crowd, Mann claimed the gold medal with a 6-4 win.
Punjab has been inconsistent when it comes to winning national titles in freestyle wrestling so when Mann won, the home crowd celebrated with a huge roar. A wrestler who won a bronze medal at the junior Asian Championships earlier this year, Mann has seen steady growth.
“I had no history in wrestling but I wanted to be a wrestler,” he said. “I am really happy that I could win gold here because doing it in front of your home crowd is always special.”
Hailing from Mandsa district, Mann had shifted base 150 kilometres away at the Khanna akhada in Ludhiana. While most Punjab wrestlers do take part in dangals, Mann has rarely done so.
“I like mat wrestling,” he said. “Dangals are not for me. This gold has boosted my self-confidence to do better. I have to see whether I move up to the 86 kg weight category or drop to 74 kg category.”
Since 86 kg is already qualified for Tokyo Olympics, in all likelihood, Mann has to drop down to 74 kg where the competition has always been tough.
Another such category in India is 57 kg where every year, a new face rules. This year, it was Rahul. Another product of Chhatarsaal stadium, Rahul pulled through a tough final against Abasaheb of Maharashtra.
Rahul won 9-8 in final but began the day with a more convincing win over Arun Dahiya, his training partner from the stadium. But as he slowly progressed in the day, he looked more threatening and favourite for the title.
“It’s nice to win and things have changed for me,” Rahul said. “Since U-23 Asian Championships, I have been wrestling well.”
After winning the title in U-23 Asian Championships, Rahul defeated Sandeep Tomar in the selection trials of World Championships before losing to Ravi Dahiya who won a medal in the tournament in September.
The 57 kg category continues to be dominated by Chhatarsaal wrestlers as Ravi Dahiya, Naveen Sihag, Rahul, Arun are all competitive but work as training partners since they hail from the same stadium.
A veteran of the stadium, Amit Dahiya won his first national gold medal. Bumping up two weight categories to 65 kg, Dahiya won the final with technical superiority.
Surprisingly, Dahiya had never won a gold medal before at the national-level despite winning an Asian gold, a World Championships silver and representing India at the Olympics in 2012.
“I was prepared to win this as I have never won one,” he said. “I can call this my official comeback.
“Though it turned out to be more difficult than I expected, it’s a good start to the new weight category and I will continue to wrestle in this.”
Satyawart Kadin also ended a long-wait after winning the 97 kg weight category in Mausham Khatri’s absence. The 125 kg gold was successfully defended by Sumit Malik of Railways which claimed the team title by finish ahead of Services by a single point.