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Rahul Aware’s road to glory: From grappling with opponents outside the ring to becoming India’s champion

The young wrestler won gold at the ongoing Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in Australia recently. In a gripping final bout against Canada’s Steven Takahashi, Aware won 15-7 despite struggling with injury in the latter half.

pune Updated: Apr 17, 2018 14:51 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Rahul Aware,Commonwealth Games
Rahul Aware after winning the match against Canada's Steven Takahashi in the men's freestyle 57kg wrestling final at the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Gold Coast on April 12. (PTI)

For Commonwealth Games (CWG) gold medal winner and wrestler Rahul Aware, the journey from being a rebellious, angry combatant to being a national hero was one loaded with strikes and gutters. From battling alleged favouritism and disciplinary action during Olympic selections to failing to live up to expectations during CWG trials, the 26-year-old has had to grapple quite a few tough opponents outside the ring to finally find triumph.

The young wrestler won gold at the ongoing Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in Australia recently. In a gripping final bout against Canada’s Steven Takahashi, Aware won 15-7 despite struggling with injury in the latter half.

Rahul, a resident of Padoda village in Beed district, shifted to Pune to train under Rustum-e-Hind Harishchandra Birajdar at Gokul Wastad Talim in 2007. He also received support from Pune-based sports NGO Lakshya in 2008.

Rahul showed promising results by winning gold in the Youth Commonwealth Games in Pune in 2008 followed by Junior Asian gold in 2009. Continuing his fine form, he also grabbed silver in world juniors and was expected to win another medal in Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010. However, he failed to perform in the selection trials and missed the opportunity.

Without losing hope, he trained hard for the next Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, but unfortunately, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) didn’t conduct trials and sent a team based on their previous performances. Meanwhile, he lost his mentor Birajdar in 2012 and started training with another legendary wrestler Kaka Pawar in Pune.

If this wasn’t enough, he hit the headlines for wrong reasons. The incident took place before the India camp for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Rahul was sure about his Olympic spot in the 57kg category as he had emerged on top, beating his rival Sandeep Tomar in the final while another contender Vijay Dahiya had finished third at the selection trials held in Delhi, a month ago.

However, the Maharashtra wrestler was shocked when he realised that the WFI had processed his rival Tomar’s visa for Mongolia, where the penultimate Olympic qualifying tournament was scheduled.

Alleging the association of being biased, Rahul returned to Mumbai, skipping the month-long training camp in Georgia. He also accused the selectors of favouritism. His rebellious move forced the association to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him and issue a show cause notice.

Many wrestlers still feel that Rahul could have done better than Tomar, who crashed out in the first round of Rio Olympics.

Talking about the incident, Pawar said, “It was an unfortunate incident. Rahul wasn’t able to focus on his training but I told him to forget what has happened and move on. I feel that he never forgot the injustice meted out to him and was desperate to win the medal and prove his mettle. His burning desire and hunger for success is his strength and he will surely win an Olympic medal in 2020.”

From a family of wrestlers

Rahul’s father Balasaheb Aware was a reputed wrestler during his time and wanted his two sons to follow the legacy. The family even shifted to Beed for better training and both youngsters started training under the watchful eyes of their father. Birajdar noticed Rahul’s spark at the state-level contests and took him under his wings. After shifting to Pune, Rahul quickly learnt the technique of mat wrestling and started performing well at the national level.

“I have seen his graph right from his childhood. We come from a small village and now, he has become an international figure, and the family is proud of him. We still have one dream left, which is the Olympic medal. We are sure that Rahul can bring that glory to Patoda, our small village,” said Rahul’s brother Gokul.

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 14:48 IST