Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s silver at Tokyo 2020 a pit-stop to the promised Olympic gold

Ravi Kumar Dahiya won the 57kg men’s freestyle wrestling silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The Indian is determined to win gold at Paris 2024. 

By Utathya Nag
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Over the past few years, there has been little doubt that Ravi Kumar Dahiya will be Indian wrestling’s flagbearer for years to come.

And if anything, Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s silver medal win at the Tokyo 2020 further strengthened his credentials. His medal, in the men’s 57kg freestyle, was only India’s second silver in wrestling at the Olympics after Sushil Kumar’s triumph at London 2012.

Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s Road to Tokyo

Born on December 12, 1997, in the village of Nahri in Sonipat, Haryana, Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s early introduction to wrestling hardly comes as a surprise.

Haryana, after all, is India’s wrestling nursery and a majority of India’s most notable grapplers, including Olympic medallists like Yogeshwar Dutt, Sushil Kumar, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, hail from this northern Indian state.

Before long, a young Ravi Dahiya left home to walk a very similar path that most Indian wrestlers of international renown do. His next stop was New Delhi's Chhatrasal Stadium, Indian wrestling's coveted school for the gifted.

At the Chhatrasal Stadium, Ravi Dahiya came under the influence of legendary coach Satpal Singh, who had also mentored the likes of Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt,

While coach Satpal played a major role in moulding Ravi into a top wrestler, another man who contributed equally, if not more, to Ravi Dahiya’s rise was his father Rakesh Dahiya.

A lease farmer without his own land, Rakesh Dahiya was pushed to the limit to make ends meet. But when it came to supporting Ravi Dahiya’s dreams of becoming a wrestler, Rakesh was as tenacious as Ravi is now on the mat.

While Ravi Dahiya was training at the Chhatrasal Stadium, his father would make a 40km trip by road every morning to reach his son fresh milk, fruits and butter from the village to ensure his daily dietary needs were met. That’s two hours of travel time every day before getting on with his own farm work.

It didn’t take long for Ravi Kumar Dahiya to start making headlines. In 2015, Ravi Dahiya, then just 17, won the 55kg freestyle silver at the junior world wrestling championships at Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. 

An injury sustained during the 2017 nationals slowed down his progress but the Haryana grappler was back at it again in 2018, winning another silver at the 2018 world U23 wrestling championship in Bucharest.

Senior international glory came in 2019, with a bronze medal in the world championships. On his debut worlds, Ravi Dahiya, who had just turned 20, accounted for former world champion Yuki Takahashi of Japan and the reigning European champion Arsen Harutyunyan of Armenia, en route to a podium finish.

The run also saw him qualify for Tokyo 2020.

While a world championships medal and Olympic qualification would have been a dream come true for most, for Ravi Kumar Dahiya it was just a starting point.

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Coming from a shy individual who generally keeps to himself, the unabashed declaration of grand ambitions might have seemed out of place but Ravi Dahiya’s performances on the mat since have backed him up.

With back-to-back Asian crowns heading into Tokyo 2020, Ravi Kumar Dahiya was one to watch out for at the iconic Makuhari Messe centre in the outskirts of Tokyo as the Summer Games, delayed by a year due to COVID, rolled in.

Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s Olympic medal

On August 4, 2021, Ravi Kumar Dahiya made his Olympic debut against Colombia’s Óscar Tigreros and made quick work of the former South American Games silver medallist, beating him 13-2 via technical superiority.

Bulgaria’s Georgi Vangelov also suffered a similar fate against the Indian youngster, going down by a 14-4 margin.

The back-to-back victories brought Ravi Kumar Dahiya face to face with Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev, a two-time world championships medallist and the Matteo Pellicone champion from earlier in the year.

Up against Sanayev, Ravi did well to take a 2-1 lead at the break but soon after the restart, found himself on the ropes after being caught on the receiving end of a ‘fitele’.

A ‘fitele’ is a move in wrestling where one grappler catches hold of their opponent’s ankles and twirls them around in quick succession to score quick points.

It’s considered a deadly move, which can earn wrestlers a chunk of points and more often than not, win them a bout. Yogeshwar Dutt famously used the ‘fitele’ to win his bronze medal at London 2012.

Dahiya managed to escape the dreaded hold but not before Sanayev had taken a seemingly unassailable 9-2 lead. One more turn and Ravi Dahiya would have lost by technical superiority (gap of 10+ points).

The Indian youngster, though, got up and brushed off the setback to mount one of the most memorable comebacks in modern Olympic history.

Constantly pressuring the Kazakh wrestler, Ravi Kumar Dahiya reduced the deficit to 9-5 but was still heading towards defeat with seconds on the clock.

In the dying seconds, though, he managed to take Sanayev down for two points before converting the takedown to a pin which gave him an instant win right at the buzzer.

“Only Ravi could have pulled it off. It was incredible and wonderful to watch because I have never seen someone winning after falling behind 2-9 and that too with just one minute to go,” Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s coach Satpal Singh told the Indian Express.

The victory set up Ravi Dahiya for a gold medal match against Zaur Uguev of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). Uguev had beaten Ravi in the 2019 world championships semi-finals two years earlier.

Up against the two-time reigning world champion at the time and a much more experienced wrestler, Ravi Kumar Dahiya came up short and lost the bout 7-4 and had to settle for a silver. The match, though, was much more closely fought than the scoreline would suggest.

Ravi Kumar Dahiya is the youngest Indian wrestler to have won a medal at the Olympic Games as he is 23 years and seven months old. Previously, Sakshi Malik held the record as she won a bronze at Rio 2016 aged 23 years and 11 months.

Ravi Dahiya’s reaction after winning the medal, that too on his debut Summer Games, was far from usual, giving a glimpse of the unique mentality the youngster packs.

“I did not come to Tokyo for a silver medal. It will not give me satisfaction. Maybe this time I deserved only a silver because Uguev was a better wrestler today. I could not achieve what I wanted to,” Ravi Dahiya said.I can't sit on a silver. I have to stay focussed and work on my technique and get ready for the next Olympics Games,” Ravi added.

Ravi Dahiya has already proven these were more than mere promises with yet another gold medal finish at the Asian championships, his third in a row, and a top podium finish at the prestigious Yasar Dogu tournament in 2022.

If he manages to stay fit, expect Ravi Kumar Dahiya to be a man on a mission at Paris 2024.

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