Tokyo 2020: Dahiya brightest star from wrestling village
On Wednesday, Ravi Dahiya became the first Indian since Kumar in London 2012 to make a wrestling final at the Olympics.
Savitri Devi was weeping with joy, but saying that her grandson is yet to fulfil his promise. “Chora bol ke gaya hai gold laake dega (he’s promised to bring me a gold medal from the Olympics),” she said.
As Ravi Dahiya spectacularly turned around the 57kg freestyle semi-final against Nurislam Sanayev in Tokyo on Wednesday, Savitri looked the most excited in the family home in Nahri village in Haryana’s Sonepat district. The family’s been through a lot for Monu (Dahiya), so this feels good, she said, as neighbours came over to congratulate them.
Dahiya picked up wrestling when he was six.
“I enrolled him at Chhatrasal Akhada (in west Delhi). Before that, he would train in the farm fields,” said his father Rakesh. A former wrestler who gave up the sport because money was scarce, Rakesh farms on the family’s one-acre plot. Dahiya’s first coach was Raj, said Rakesh, suffixing his name with “pehelwan (wrestler).”
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The wrestling centre at Chhatrasal stadium has produced a number of internationals, of whom the most famous are double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, and Yogeshwar Dutt, who won bronze in London. Dahiya’s younger brother Pankaj is also training to be a Greco-Roman wrestler at Chhatrasal stadium.
“Coach Satpal had told me that Ravi would make India proud,” said Rakesh, referring to Satpal Singh who won a wrestling gold in the 1982 Asian Games and bronze in 1974. A famous coach who runs the centre at Chhatrasal, Singh is also Sushil Kumar’s father-in-law.
So despite facing a financial crunch, Rakesh sent his son to train there. It meant he would travel for an hour every day for the next 10 years to give his son milk and fruits, which are an important part of a wrestler’s diet.
On Wednesday, Dahiya became the first Indian since Kumar in London 2012 to make a wrestling final at the Olympics.
Sushil (he is now in jail for alleged murder) and Dutt are Dahiya’s wrestling heroes, said Darshan Lall, a former wrestler who is also a vice-president at the Wrestling Federation of India.
“Sushil has played a big role in shaping Ravi’s career. He was always very bright as a young trainee who had the hunger to reach at the top. I was not surprised the way he played the semi-final bout. It is his natural game. He likes to attack and did not come under big-stage pressure. He is going to win the final and get India a gold medal,” said Lall.
Should that happen, it would be the most glorious chapter in the history of this village of 15,000 people.
Dahiya is the third Olympian from Nahri after Mahavir Singh (1980 Moscow, 1984 Los Angeles) and Amit Dahiya (London 2012). But he’s the first medallist.