Ravi Kumar Dahiya is fresh from the Asian Championship gold at Almaty – his second successive at the Continental level. There is no time to bask in the glory. The 23-year-old from Sonepat has a dream to realize, he has been living shortly after celebrating his tenth birthday.
An 11-year-old Ravi had just started taking baby steps in the extremely demanding world of competitive wrestling when Sushil Kumar won his first Olympic medal – a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A dream had born. Thirteen years later, now the grown up boy is determined to emulate that feat of Sushil – his inspiration, mentor and Guru.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya might not have known then what it takes to represent the nation at Olympics, but Sushil’s success has given the bright prodigy a dream of winning an Olympic medal some day.
Today, the desire to excel at Tokyo is overpowering the occasion to celebrate his second successive Asian Championship success.
As he prepares to realize his Olympic goals, Dahiya in an exclusive chat with The Sporting Hub confesses that Sushil is a huge impact on his early life.
“He (Sushil) has made a massive impact on us (wrestlers). He gave us the much-needed belief that we (Indians) can also win Olympics medals,” says Dahiya, who is trains at the Sports Authority of India centre in Sonepat.
“He has shown us the way by winning the first medal (the Beijing 2008 bronze). The second (London 2012 silver) was even bigger. That has been a huge influence. It gave us the confidence.
“Earlier we (Indians) would just think of participating in Olympics. Now everyone is aiming to not just win a medal. Rather we always talk about winning the gold.”
Dahiya connects with India’s only individual double Olympic medalist in more than one ways. Both come from the stable of Guru Satpal – the Chhatarsal Stadium in Delhi. Contribution and dedication of their fathers in raising the Indian Olympians is identical, too.
If Sushil’s father came all the way from the then West Delhi hamlet of Nazafgarh to provide home-made fresh meals to then India’s most successfully Olympic wrestler in making, Dahiya’s father would come from his village in Sonpat district in Haryana. Sushil’s father would attend his office in between, while Dahiya senior, a farmer, would go back and work in the paddy fields, and return in the evening with a fresh meal for dinner.
Conversation expectedly shifts from Sushil’s influence to preparations for the Games and how the training has been marred by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dahiya opens up about challenges, goals and way forward:
Question: What does it mean to retain the Asian Championship title?
Answer: Winning the gold is always special. You aim for this. But that is past now. The goal is (Tokyo) Olympics now.
Q: You said Tokyo Olympics is the goal. But preparations have been from normal, much below the expected levels. How does being in isolation and bio bubble affect an athlete?
A: This is abnormal. But that is with all. The situation is such. We all will have to adjust. That applies to all walks of life. If this is a handicap, it is for everyone. I don’t look into that too much. Since, Olympics are drawing closure, my focus is very much clear.
Q: Covid-19 has minimized international exposure, which normally is considered essential prior to major events like the Olympics?
A: It was crucial for us to compete in international events and train overseas. That was same for everyone. Asian Championship has been good. We are expecting a camp in Bulgaria next. Hopefully, the team will go there. We will try to learn as much as we can. The pandemic has certainly affected our training. We have to make adjustments and give our best under the given situation.
Q: Lesser international exposure and few tournaments will also mean inadequate knowledge about your potential rivals in the Olympics?
A: By now it is more or less clear who are the main competitors in my (weight) category. Rest it is the same for everyone.
Q: As you said it’s same for everyone. Will you be packing up some surprise element for rivals?
A: Efforts are on. I am fully prepared. Olympics are one platform where all prepare to give their all-time best. We too are trying that. This is like once in a lifetime opportunity.
Q: How does the mindset change after booking the Olympics berth?
A: The jumbo is off your back. But there is no relaxation. The real test begins after that. The focus immediately shifts to winning the (Olympic) medal. Entire effort is in that direction.
We are left to deal with an unprecedented pandemic. But all is going well. The feeling is the same – to win the gold for the nation.
Q: How does training and support system change after qualifying for Olympics?
A: There is a different kind of a pressure before qualifying. All challengers give their best for that ticket to Olympics. Anyone can surprise you.
Thereafter, it’s different altogether. It is important to play any tournament that comes your way. Training hard and systematically is the key. Best thing is that you do all this with a free mind, without any pressure.
Qualifying early was the best thing to happen as you also start getting best facilities and the preferential treatment.
Q: What is the impact of winning the Asian Championship gold?
A: That is one medal. You feel very happy. But it’s important to move one and leave that behind. You cannot bask in that glory for long. You are faced with a much bigger goal ahead.
Now, one will be against the best of the best from the wrestling world. No one leaves any stone unturned there. Everyone comes with his best possible preparation.
Now it is absolute focus. It’s time to strengthen your strengths and iron out whatever flaws you have.
Q: What training schedule are you following now?
A: While in the camp, we strictly adhere to the schedule given by our coaches. When there is no camp, I go to the (Chhatrasal Stadium). There the morning workout and training session goes from 5 am to 8 or 9 am. Thereafter it’s cool down, diet and proper rest. Rest and recovery is as important as your training. Evening training is scheduled between 4:40 pm and 7:30 pm. If I am blessed with this opportunity (the Olympics) then it’s an all-out effort to make the best out of this.
Q: What is Wrestling Federation’s role?
A: Federation is giving the best of the best. Ever since I have qualified, the federation has not let us felt any shortcoming. We are getting everything an Olympic qualifier would expect anywhere in the world. Ultimately, they too have the same goal of doing best for the nation (at Tokyo).
Q: If you have to pick one toughest rival at the Games, who would it be?
A: Zaur Rizvanovich Uguev of Russia is the defending and two-time world champion. He is going to be the toughest opponent in my category. Uss par meri special nazar hai (There is a special focus on him).