When Aman Gulia went for his first-ever selection trial, he was an underweight 13-year-old. In 2018, he participated in a talent hunt by Air Force Boys’ Sports School at the Indian Air Force station in Race Course, New Delhi.
Around 400 kids from all over India had entered the trial. AFBSS selected only eight of them and while they were impressed with Gulia’s skills, they were worried about his weight which was just 31 kilograms at that time.
Still, they picked him. In less than two years at the AFBSS centre in Bangalore, Gulia has come out with flying colours and won two national and international medals.
On Tuesday, the Haryana boy won his first gold medal at the cadet-level at the National Championships in Patna, showing exceptional wrestling skills as he won five bouts in a day.
“It feels good,” Gulia said. “I fought really good today and a couple of bouts were tough but it’s good to come out on top.”
The shy wrestler is still waiting to get cauliflower ears (a deformity of the ear caused by blunt trauma or other injuries that may occur during a boxing or wrestling match), something he considers to be good looking. It was perhaps the toughest field he has ever wrestled, beating wrestlers from Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and two from Maharashtra, the four best states in Indian wrestling.
The makeshift wrestling platform, with the mats spread out on the basketball court of the Patliputra Sports Complex, saw more than a hundred people witnessing Gulia control bouts like a veteran.
There is no special lineage of wrestling in his family with only his father visiting the akhada a couple of times in the village. But when he failed to achieve his dreams, he passed the baton on to his son.
“His weight was very low but we took him and after a year, he participated in the under-15,” AFBSS coach Ajay Baliyan said. “He was the most talented wrestler in the trials. We had to pick him.”
Baliyan added: “He is very sincere in practice. He is not extremely talented but works very hard because he knows he has to earn his medal. Even on his off days, he would come and practice things he is trying to improve. Against Omkar, he should not have given up points. It was a tough bout but he’ll go back and work that out.”
Indeed, history shows how Gulia will not rest until he achieves his set goal.In his first U-15 selection trial for Asian Championships in September 2018, Gulia lost 0-10 to a wrestler from Uttar Pradesh. So he asked his coach to lend him the video of the bout.
Till October 2019, he watched it on loop, absorbing every error to memory, and when they met again for the next selection trials, Gulia came out on top 8-2.
But coach Baliyan believes that there is room to improve. “He keeps on attacking,” he said. “He also doesn’t have good defence despite having great reaction time. We are trying to work a lot more on his defence.”
The first time the flaw was noticed at a higher level was in the U-15 Asian Championships where he lost 10-20 to Kazakhstan’s Adi Serikuly. “I thought too much about winning and finishing the bout which cost me,” Gulia said.
He decided to write about that day in his diary, which he used to regularly maintain at the time. He now spends his time watching wrestling videos, and sometimes, a movie.
No one is making a prediction on his future yet but Baliyan thinks that by the time Gulia finishes his cadet years, he can be among the best in India.
“In the next three years, he will win World Championships,” he says. “This is the beginning and I want him to make 65kg category at the senior-level.
Gulia, however, thinks he is a better fit for 57 kg. While that is a decision the coach and his ward can mull over, both agree that the latter will win a medal at the Olympics.
“When I began wrestling, I used to miss home but slowly, I increased my focus,” Gulia said. “As I read my school history text books, I realised that I love reading the stories of kings and wars. Now, like them, I too want to win an Olympic medal and earn a place in the history books.”