The quiet storm. This sobriquet would fit the bill very well if one is told to describe Ravi Kumar Dahiya in a few words.
He does not show emotions, sometimes making one doubt if he has any at all.
On Wednesday, when he became Indian wrestling’s new poster boy by reaching the Olympic final, his first reaction was, “Haan, theek hi hai bhaisahab” (Yes, it has happened, it’s just okay).
Dahiya had a golden chance to become India’s youngest Olympic champion but lost 4-7 to reigning world champion Zavur Uguev in the men’s freestyle 57kg title clash.
He is someone who always appears indifferent. No flamboyance of dominant athletes in contact sports for him.
If he wins, he does not jump with joy. At best, he smiles.
If he loses, he goes quieter.
That’s Dahiya for you.
But the moment he is on a wrestling mat, he begins to expresses himself in the best possible manner. He becomes a different ‘beast’.
His long arms, immense strength and stamina, along with the technical prowess, makes him a formidable opponent. It’s difficult to breach his defence and stop him from making his moves.
And this is because nothing interests him except wrestling. He is not interested in buying new clothes or shoes, his uncle Anil had said during a visit to his village Nahri in Sonepat district of Haryana.
All he talks about, if at all he talks, is wrestling.
For someone who was never billed as a star wrestler, the 23-year-old has made a mark in his own way.
He rose to prominence only when he qualified for the Tokyo Games with a bronze medal-winning effort at the 2019 World Championship in Nur Sultan.
Even when he had qualified for the Games, he was not happy. He was thinking about his lost semi-final bout to Russian Zavur Uguev, who went on to win the title.
“What should I say? Yes I have qualified for Olympics but there are Olympic medallists from my centre. I am nowhere,” he said. A picture of modesty he was then, and he is still the same.
He had won a silver at the Under-23 World Championships in 2015 to give a glimpse of what was to be expected from him.
He showed his mettle at the Pro Wrestling League (PWL), when he beat U-23 European champion and also Sandeep Tomar, who literally owned the 57kg category before Dahiya’s rise.
There were a few who were still not willing to believe in him, saying PWL was not the platform to judge him.
He silenced them all in 2019 at the World’s, and has only grown in stature since. He won the Asian Championship in Delhi in 2020 and defended the title this year in Almaty.
He competed at Poland Open and lost only one bout. The World Cup in Serbia was an aberration.
Dahiya is a product of the national capital’s Chhatrasal Stadium, which has already given India two Olympic medallists – Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt.
His father, Rakesh Kumar, sent him there when he was a 12-year-old boy and since then, he has been training under Mahabali Satpal and coach Virender.
Rakesh has been toiling hard in the farm fields, taken on lease, for years, but never let the struggles come in the way of Ravi’s training.
Rakesh would himself carry milk and butter to Chhatrasal Stadium, about 60km away from his home, every single day without fail, to ensure that his son gets the best diet.
The routine meant Rakesh would wake up at 3:30am, walk about 5km to the nearest railway station, get down at Azadpur and then walk another 2km to the Chhatrasal Stadium, where Ravi trained under Mahabali Satpal.
After coming back, Rakesh would work in the fields and this continued for 12 years till the COVID-19-induced lockdown halted the routine in 2020.
His son has now achieved something that will certainly help Rakesh forget all his pain.
All the sacrifices were worth it. (PTI)