Tokyo Olympics: From almost quitting to wrestling’s next big hope — the Ravi Dahiya story

ravi dahiya olympicsDahiya is also the go-to man on technical advice for the juniors. (Photo credit: Twitter/Piyush Goyal)

As Ravi Dahiya stood in silence following his defeat in the gold medal match of the 57 kg freestyle, a pall of gloom descended on the wrestling hall of Chhatrasal Stadium, where his fellow trainees had gathered to watch their “brother” making history.

The other trainees were confident Dahiya would bag India’s first-ever wrestling gold in the Olympic Games. The confidence in Dahiya’s ability was in stark contrast to how his teammates felt about him when he started off. Sparring partner and roommate Arun, a few years his senior, said Dahiya was very small and did not win any national medal in his first four years.

Arun, who has been Dahiya’s roommate for over seven years, said he did not expect too much from his roommate initially. Dahiya’s parents would call Arun and urge him to help their son. However, despite his best efforts, Dahiya could not progress.

He was almost on the verge of giving up when someone advised Dahiya to get a medical check-up done. The tests revealed the youngster had iron deficiency, which was hindering his performance.

Arun said once that problem was sorted, Dahiya never had to look back. He expressed his amazement at how the boy who hardly speaks had won silver in the biggest stage. Arun also pointed to his demeanour following Dahiya’s semi-final win — no fist pump or roar, he humbly walked away from the mat.

The trainees at the akhara say Dahiya is a very straightforward person. His close friend Deepak calls him kharghosh (rabbit) because of his resemblance to the animal. On the mat, however, he is a cheetah, Deepak said.

One of the junior wrestlers said Dahiya always maintains his cool. Whenever he is asked for tips, he takes the time to explain the nuances.

Dahiya’s coolness was on full display during his matches at the Olympic Games. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi marvelled at his fighting spirit and tenacity, former India cricketer Gautam Gambhir was bowled over by his heart.

Legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar also hailed the wrestler’s power-packed performances, while Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, an avid sports fan, tweeted that Dahiya’s gritty performances would be an inspiration for India’s sportspersons.

However, the praise is not likely to get to Dahiya’s head, thanks to his absence from social media. Deepak said none of the wrestlers at the akhara had any social life. Dahiya is also not on social media, he said, adding that he used WhatsApp to send documents and remain connected with his family.

Dahiya begins practice at 4 am. He takes rest before the start of the evening session, Deepak said. Dahiya is also the go-to man on technical advice for the juniors.

Arun, Deepak, and the junior wrestlers are all eagerly waiting for Dahiya’s return. Arun said he will be the same Dahiya, but now with a silver medal from the Olympics.

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