The 57kg freestyle wrestler is a promising prospect for India
There will be a fair bit of expectation on the shoulders of Indian grapplers when they step on to the mat at Tokyo 2020. It is a discipline where India has earned at least one medal in the previous three Olympics.
This time around, four wrestlers have already qualified for the marquee event from India - Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Deepak Punia and Ravi Kumar Dahiya.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya, who competes in the men’s 57kg freestyle event, will be looking to continue Indian grapplers’ success story at the Olympics.
The 22-year-old is preparing meticulously for his first Olympics and is hopeful of a strong showing.
What do we know about the grappler from Haryana?
Dahiya hails from the village of Nahri in Sonipat district, Haryana - a state famous for producing some of the finest wrestlers India has seen. The likes of Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang Punia, the Phogat sisters are all from Haryana.
It was only natural that he took an interest in wrestling at a very young age.
His father was a farmer but was a big supporter of Dahiya’s wrestling ambitions.
Dahiya’s penchant for wrestling was noted very early by acclaimed wrestling coach Satpal Singh who took him under his wing at the age of 10 and coached him at the Chhatrasal stadium in New Delhi which was about 40km from his village.
Indian wrestling’s much-vaunted school has produced the likes of two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt.
In fact, the story goes that Dahiya’s father used to travel from his village to Delhi to deliver milk and fruits, a key part of Dahiya’s diet, for over a decade regularly.
Dahiya’s talent came to the fore at the 2015 Junior World Wrestling Championships in Salvador de Bahia. He won a silver in the 55kg category but he also picked up an injury in the semifinals.
Though he soldiered on with the injury, it flared up as he was transitioning to his senior career. In the 2017 senior nationals, the injury troubled him and he had to spend time away from the mat.
It took him almost a year to recover completely. However, when he came back after the injury-enforced break, he picked it up exactly where he left off.
He was the lone Indian medallist at the 2018 World U23 Wrestling Championship in Bucharest, winning a silver in the 57kg category.
He followed that up with a good performance in the 2019 Asian Wrestling Championships in Xi'an where he just about missed out on the bronze medal.
He went on to establish himself as India’s premier wrestler in the 57kg category soon after. In fact, he beat Olympian Sandeep Tomar and senior wrestler Utkarsh Kale in the selection trials for the 2019 World Championship.
Dahiya qualified for Tokyo 2020 after some scintillating displays in the World Championships in Nur Sultan where he was making his debut.
.At 5’7”, Dahiya was one of the tallest wrestlers in his category and he made full use of that advantage in Nur Sultan. He defeated the European champion Arsen Harutyunyan in the Round of 16 before dumping out 2017 world champion Yuki Takahashi in the quarterfinal.
His stamina and mental fortitude came to the fore in that win over Takahashi which was enough to guarantee him a spot in Tokyo 2020.
In the semifinal, he would lose to eventual gold medalist Zaur Uguev and had to settle for bronze. Even against Uguev, his fighting qualities came to the fore. Having trailed 0-6 at one point, he clawed his way back and came within two points of the Russian before the clock ran out.
He also turned heads with his performances in the 2019 Pro Wrestling League in India. Turning out for Haryana Hammers, he played a crucial role with an unbeaten campaign that helped his side win the title.
His form has been impressive in 2020 as well. He won gold in the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi in March before the pandemic struck.
Though he suffered a disappointing opening round defeat in the recently held Individual World Cup in Serbia, which can be put down to rustiness after the pandemic, Dahiya continues to be a strong medal prospect for India in Tokyo.