The 23-year-old became the second-ever Indian wrestler to win an Olympics silver medal at Tokyo 2020.
For the wrestling contingent, the Tokyo Olympics has so far been a mixed bag. Before the quadrennial event went underway, Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Sharan said that he expects a minimum of four medals. However, most of the star contenders have disappointed. Vinesh Phogat crashed out of the quarter-finals, and Bajrang Punia lost in the semi-final by a big 5-12 margin. Deepak Punia made it to the bronze medal bout but was defeated in a disappointing encounter. Seema Bisla, Sonam Malik and Anshu Malik even failed to make it past the 1/8 finals.
The sole shining light in the seven-member strong contingent has undoubtedly been Ravi Kumar Dahiya. The 23-year-old wrestler from Nahri village in Sonepat, Haryana stormed through all his opponents in the men’s 57-kg category to reach the finals of his debut Olympics campaign.
In the finals, Ravi Kumar Dahiya faced defending two-time world champion Zaur Uguev. Despite giving the veteran a tough fight, he lost the bout 4-7. However, he became only the second Indian wrestler after Sushil Kumar to clinch an Olympics silver medal.
The Tokyo Olympics silver medalist spoke exclusively to Khel Now over the phone from Tokyo, fresh from his triumphant moment. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
That winning feeling
For any athlete, the pinnacle of his career is undoubtedly winning a medal at the Olympics, something Ravi Kumar Dahiya did in his very first attempt and he feels elated at this feat. “Winning a medal at the Tokyo Olympics was something very surreal for me,” the grappler said.
“Standing on that podium, watching the national flag being held up in front of me, made me teary-eyed. The realization that the flag is being hoisted at the Olympics because of me is a feeling that I cannot ever forget in my life,” stated an emotional Ravi Kumar Dahiya.
However, amidst the elation, there was a tinge of disappointment in his voice. “Winning the gold and standing on that podium would have been such a better feeling,” he expressed.
“People only see the medal at the Olympics, but the preparation that goes behind it always goes unnoticed,” said Ravi Kumar Dahiya. In fact, he states, the preparation began the moment he knew that he qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, when he secured a bronze at the 2019 World Championships.
“I trained day in and day out for two years for the Tokyo Olympics,” he said. “I went off social media for two years, and even could not meet my family for days and months. For the final leg of our preparations, we went to Russia to train, and then from there, we directly flew to Tokyo,” the 23-year-old revealed.
Training in Russia, Dahiya said has been crucial to his success at the Tokyo Olympics. “I was training under the best coaches there, and for the Olympics, you need that extra something in your game. I feel that training in Russia did exactly that, and I would like to thank WFI for providing the full support to me.”
Handling the pressure
Ravi Kumar Dahiya is the reigning two-time Asian Champion. He has won bronze at the World Championships. It is safe to say, that the grappler has competed in some of the most intense and prestigious wrestling competitions in the world. However, handling the pressure of the Olympics is an entirely different topic altogether for any athlete.
When asked if there was pressure on him during the Tokyo Olympics, the 23-year-old says that he maintained calm throughout his bouts. “I am not one of those ones to take the pressure. It hampers your game. I knew I trained well, I had 100% confidence in myself, and I executed what my coaches told me,” said the wrestler.
“My coaches told me to treat the Olympics as any other tournament, and I did exactly that,” Ravi Kumar Dahiya stated.
The biggest challenge
When asked what was the most difficult bout among all his matches in the Tokyo Olympics was, Ravi Kumar Dahiya opined that all were equally difficult.
“The final, however, was the biggest challenge for me. I faced the reigning World Champion, and I knew it would be a difficult bout. But I gave it all on the mat, and unfortunately it was too difficult for me to overcome him,” he added, with a hint of regret in his voice.
“Uguev was the better fighter on the day, but I promise you, the next time I face him, he will have a more difficult challenge from me,” the grappler continued.
Among all the matches Ravi Kumar Dahiya went through to reach the final, perhaps the most talked about clash was in the semi final against Nurislam Sanayev of Kazakhstan. The fourth-seeded Indian was having a difficult time on the mat. He was trailing 9-2 until the last minute of the bout.
However, he showed amazing resilience and determination to turn the tide in his favour. He got hold of Sanayev with a double leg attack, then gripping him tightly. He then put his opponent’s back on the mat and won by pinfall. It may be regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in Olympic wrestling history.
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“I never lost hope, even after going down, and there was a zeal in me to win. I knew that if I somehow won, I would be confirmed of a medal. That zeal is what kept me going,” said Ravi Kumar Dahiya. “In wrestling, all it takes to win is one move, and I knew that I had that one move left in me,” he stated.
It was in this match that a video later emerged where it was seen that Sanayev was biting on Dahiya’s arm, leaving quite a significant mark. However, Dahiya seemed quite unperturbed by this incident. “These things happen in the heat of the moment,” he felt, shrugging off the incident nonchalantly.
What lies ahead
Speaking on how he will celebrate his victory after reaching home in Haryana, Ravi Kumar Dahiya said that all he would do is spend time with friends and family. “More than celebrations, all I want to do is take complete rest for 10 days. After that, I will be back at training, “ the wrestler revealed.
“I want to finish what I started at Tokyo. For that, I need to train harder. For the next three years, my sole aim will be to win the gold medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics,” he concluded.