Kolkata: Ravi Kumar Dahiya, the second Indian wrestler ever to earn a silver medal in the Olympic Games on Thursday, was the country’s unlikely hero on the mat. While Bajrang Punia has been touted as a medal hope as he gets down to action on Friday, the 23-year-old grappler from Nahri village of Haryana shared the limelight with the Indian hockey team on a profitable day for the contingent.
Dahiya, who raised visions of an elusive gold in what’s a traditional sport in India, went down 7-4 in men’s 57kg freestyle final to Russian Olympic Committee’s Uguev Zaur - finishing with a silver on Thursday. It was India’s fifth medal in the going Games.
There was a chance of them giving a little more push to the medal tally, but Deepak Punia lost his bronze medal fight to San Marino’s Myles Amine in 87 kg clash - giving the small nation their first medal in wrestling.
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“Ravi Kumar Dahiya is a remarkable wrestler! His fighting spirit and tenacity are outstanding. Congratulations to him for winning the Silver Medal at Tokyo 2020. India takes great pride in his accomplishments,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi as congratulations poured in from other parts of the country for the biggest achiever in the sport after Sushil Kumar - now a fallen hero. Kumar had won a silver at the 2012 London Games where Yogeshwar Dutt also won a bronze. Sushil had earlier won a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Dahiya’s journey follows the same template of any other aspiring Indian wrestler from a scenario which looked straight out of the sets of ‘Dangal,’ the runaway Bollywood saga on the Phogat sisters produced by Amir Khan a few years back. He started training from the age of six in a village akhara (local wrestling arena) while at 12, he started to train under coach Satpal at New Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium, which had spawned the likes of Sushil and Yogeshwar Dutt.
His father Rakesh, a farmer who worked on rented paddy fields, used to travel 28kms every day for over a decade to deliver home-cooked food, milk and butter to his son. Young Ravi started showing his potential and was soon touted as the next big thing from Chhatrasal’s line of up-and-coming wrestlers. Medals at the junior level and national championships justified the billing.
The breakthrough year came in 2019, when a 20-year-old Ravi won a bronze medal at the World Championships and booked his seat for the Tokyo Olympics. He followed this up with gold in the Asian Championships in New Delhi in 2020 and earlier this year, he managed to retain his Asian title at Almaty.
Dahiya is no stranger to making comebacks in his bouts. In a Round-of-16 fight at the 2019 World Championships, Dahiya was 0-6 down against Arsen Harutyunyan of Armenia but came back and logged 17 points in-a-row to win the bout, showing he was made of sterner stuff.
Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev, who had taken a 9-2 lead in the semi-final on Wednesday before being pinned down, will vouch for that. He came up short against the two-time world champion Zaur in the final alright - but a new wrestling star is surely born!