Wrestler Ravi Dahiya was down and out. His opponent in the semifinal of the men’s 57kg category, Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev, had just taken a 9-2 lead.
With a minute and 30 seconds left on the clock, it was a do-or-die situation for the youngster. Dahiya inflicted a double-leg attack on Sanayev, locked his arm and leg and rolled him to put his shoulders down to the mat, thereby moving from 7-9 to winning by forcing the fall, thus completing a remarkable comeback.
Dahiya, who had easy wins over Colombia’s Oscar Tigreros Urbano and Bulgaria’s Georgi Vangelov, will now face the Russian Olympic Committee’s Zaur Uguev — a silver and bronze-medallist in the 2018 and 2019 World Championships — in the final at the Makuhari Messe Hall on Thursday.
The reigning Asian champion has become the second Indian wrestler after Sushil Kumar to reach a gold-medal bout at the Olympics.
Dahiya, seeded fourth in the competition, has got the chance to equal or better his idol Sushil’s feat at the Olympics.
Hailing from Nahri village in Haryana’s Sonipat district, Dahiya started training from the age of six in a village akhara. At 12, he started to train under coach Satpal at New Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium, a place which has given India two Olympics medallists in Sushil and Yogeshwar Dutt.
His father Rakesh, who worked as a farmer on rented paddy fields, used to travel 28kms every day for over a decade to deliver home-cooked food, milk and butter to his son. Soon, Dahiya started to progress was touted as the next big thing from Chhatrasal’s line of up-and-coming wrestlers. Medals at the junior level and national championships justified the billing.
In 2019, he made his senior-level breakthrough at the World Championships in Nur-Sultan. Then a 20-year-old, he instantly made a mark by winning the bronze medal and booked his seat for the Tokyo Olympics. In 2020, he won gold in the Asian Championships in New Delhi. This year, he managed to retain his Asian title at Almaty.
Dahiya is no stranger to making comebacks in his bouts. In the Round of 16 at the 2019 World Championships, Dahiya was 0-6 down against Arsen Harutyunyan of Armenia. He came back and logged 17 points in-a-row to win the bout, giving proof of his mental toughness.
With strong physical fitness and superior stamina, Dahiya will aim to surpass his idol Sushil’s achievement and leave his own mark at the Tokyo Olympics.