At a time when athletes/coaches/staff members at the Chhatrasal Stadium were concerned about their image and a police inquiry following Sushil Kumar’s arrest on murder charges, there was only one wrestler whose laser-sharp focus was pretty much “clear”.
I remember calling up Ravi Kumar Dahiya, when Sushil was evading arrest and was on the run, to know what was going on in the Akhada?
Athletes were avoiding taking calls from outside at that time, but Ravi accorded due respect to my phone call and talked to me for some time. During the entire conversation, he talked about practice, training schedule, diet and foreign exposure, but did not touch upon the murder issue at all.
But I couldn’t help asking him, “Sushil ka case hua, ab kaisa mahaul hai (what is the atmosphere after the Sushil case)?”
Ravi politely answered, “Bhaisahab, medal jeetna hai. Isliye dimaag ko kahi aur le jana hi nahi chahta (I want to win a medal, and that is why I am not letting my mind wander to anything else).”
I got my curt answer and wished him nothing but luck.
I have known Ravi since 2010. He is a man of few words. You ask him a long question and he will just reply with a terse yes or no. It actually requires so much patience to make him blurt out more. However, the rising star of the Indian wrestling skyline is an altogether different person when he takes to the mat.
Chhatrasal Stadium is a stone’s throw from my house. I would go there to see ‘Real Dangal’ every weekend. That is when I chose to take the plunge into journalism. I started covering sports, especially wrestling, in 2006. Then I first officially met Sushil Kumar. He later went on to win an Olympic bronze medal in 2008. That very year Ravi Dahiya joined the academy.
Ravi was all of 11 years at that time. After a gap of two years, I saw Ravi training for the first time. Mahabali Satpal was instructing a clutch of young boys.
Years went by and I would see him sitting quietly and listening to his coaches. Mahabali Satpal, Sushil and Jaiveer Singh used to give him wrestling tips. With age, he gained more confidence and learnt the ropes of wrestling.
Dahiya’s brush with fame came when he won a silver in the 55 kg freestyle category at the 2015 Junior World Wrestling Championships in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
In his World Championships debut in 2019, Dahiya defeated European champion Arsen Harutyunyan in the round of 16, and the 2017 world champion Yuki Takahashi in the quarterfinal, to earn one of the six available quota places for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
He settled for a bronze after losing to defending champion and eventual gold medalist Zaur Uguev in the semifinal round.
Ravi is so aggressive and mentally razor sharp against his opponents that senior grapplers had picked him as one of the medal prospects in Olympics. Everytime when I would ask Sushil who does he think can win an Olympic medal this time, the first name would be Ravi. “Yeh jitega gold,” he said.
When Yoga guru Ramdev visited the Chhatrasal Stadium last year, I also happened to be there when Sushil introduced Ravi to him.
“Guru ji, miliye Olympic ke humare gold medallist se,” he said.
Sushil believed in Ravi and the Haryana boy has lived up to that belief. He may have settled for silver in Tokyo, but he has won several hearts.
His close friend Deepak calls him ‘Khargosh’.
Taking to IANS, Deepak said that he has never seen such a simple guy in his entire life.
“No party, no new clothes, nothing… just training. I call him Khargosh,” Deepak said.
There is a festive enviroment right now at the Chhatrasal Stadium. And every single wrestler is living the moment.