Tokyo 2020: Ravi Dahiya goes down in the final after gallant fight
Ravi Dahiya was feeling miserable. He had become only the second Indian wrestler to win an Olympic silver, after Sushil Kumar in 2012, but the glint of the medal hanging from his neck was not enough to soften the pain of defeat. He did not celebrate the silver. He was so close to gold.
The 23-year-old wrestler from Haryana lost the final bout of the 57kg freestyle wrestling event to Zavur Uguev of Russia (in Tokyo under the banner of Russian Olympic Committee or ROC), the two-time world champion and on the day, just a little bit superior to the young Dahiya, making his Olympic debut.
Dahiya went down fighting, but his compatriot Deepak Punia lost his bronze medal bout against San Marino’s Nazem Myles Amine by being too passive and letting a one-point lead slip from his grip in the dying seconds of the match.
The biggest shock of the day though was the early exit of World No. 1 Vinesh Phogat, beaten in the quarter-final by Vanesa Kaladzinskaya of Belarus. Phogat, who came to Tokyo 2020 as a strong medal contender, looked out of sorts and lost by fall, despite a rousing performance in her opening match where she beat Olympics bronze medallist Sofia Mattson 7-1.
With Phogat’s exit, all the attention was on Dahiya’s gold medal fight. The previous day, he bounced back from the brink of defeat to pin the two-time world championships medallist Nurislam Sanayev in a thrilling semi-final.
Against Uguev, Dahiya got no such opportunity. The Russian was swift with his counters, and strong in defence. He opened a 2-0 lead through step-outs. Dahiya brought him down to draw parity. But Zavur scored another two points with a takedown even as Dahiya did well to avoid getting tangled.
In the second period, with Uguev leading 4-2, Dahiya stepped up the attack and looked for an opening. Even as he bravely went searching for the win, Uguev, extremely strong in defence, scored another three points with a fast counter. With one and half minutes remaining, there was still enough time for Dahiya to mount a comeback. A takedown gave him two more points but that was all he could muster.
“Jis cheez ke liya aaye the, kami rahe gayi. Kuch kami rahe gayi mere me (I was not able to do what I came here to do. I fell short),” said Dahiya. “For two months, I have not spoken to my family, nor used my phone. I just wanted to give everything for the Olympics and win a gold medal. I didn’t even go home during lockdown. I was training in Chhatrasal Stadium.”
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A silver in Tokyo has only added to the stature of wrestling as that rare sport outside of cricket where India has a strong global presence. Starting with Sushil Kumar’s bronze in Beijing 2008, India has now won a medal in every edition of the Games since.
“I am an athlete, and I can’t be satisfied by anything less than gold,” said Dahiya. “People will celebrate, that is fine, but I will improve and come back stronger.”
Dahiya remembers the August night of 2008 when Sushil Kumar, now in jail on murder charges, won his Olympic bronze because that’s where his journey started.
“When Sushil Kumar won the medal, I was small, but I went to see him,” Dahiya sad. “Later, Yogeshwar Dutt also won a medal (bronze, 2012). I have learned a lot from them. They inspired me to compete at the Olympics and win a medal.”
Dahiya, from the Nahri village in Sonepat, is not the first from his village to compete at the Olympics -- Amit Dahiya did that first in 2012.
“Our village is a village of wrestlers. When Amit went to London, there was a great buzz in the village,” Dahiya said. “My father was interested in wrestling and he took me to Hansraj ji who trains young boys in the village. Hansrajji then brought me to Chhatrasal Stadium.”
And that’s where he took his first step towards Olympic glory.
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