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Monday, September 20, 2021

Ravi Dahiya after Olympic silver: ‘This is okay, but my target was gold’

Even on the Games podium, the highest point of an athlete's career, Dahiya had the look of someone who had been forced to stand there.

Written by Mihir Vasavda |
Updated: August 6, 2021 2:42:18 pm
Ravi Dahiya, Ravi Dahiya silver medal, Ravi Dahiya Tokyo Olympics, Ravi Dahiya gold medal match, Ravi Dahiya angrySilver medallist Ravi Kumar of India poses with his medal. (Reuters Photo)

It is the biggest dilemma for an athlete at the Olympic Games: do you lose gold or win silver?

On Thursday, Ravi Dahiya became only the sixth athlete in India’s sporting history to win a silver medal at the Olympics. But when he was told to go backstage for the medal ceremony, he trudged across reluctantly.

Even on the Games podium, the highest point of an athlete’s career, Dahiya had the look of someone who had been forced to stand there. His glum face stood in sharp contrast to those of the other two winners as he picked up the medal from a shiny tray and wore it around his neck.

“What’s the point of this?” he asked later. “I had come here with only one target, a gold medal. This is okay, but it’s not gold.”

Perhaps, Dahiya will smile when he learns of the impact his medal has already had. Haryana’s Nahari, Dahiya’s village, is all set to get a brand-new indoor stadium. Of course, the wrestler didn’t know that yet. He’d kept his phone switched off for several weeks, not even speaking to his parents to avoid distractions. “But if I had won the gold medal, I’d have felt better,” he said.

Dahiya bowed out in the final of the 57-kg class but not before giving a massive scare to his Russia rival and two-time world champion Zavur Uguev in the 7-4 verdict.

Dahiya had qualified for the final with a bunch of stunning qualifying round wins on Wednesday, including a cinematic takedown of Asian champion Nurislam Sanayev.

He had lost to Uguev once before in the world championship final in 2019. “The World Championship is tougher…At the Olympics, it’s relatively easier because the number of bouts we compete in are fewer and we get more time to rest,” Dahiya said.

Rest, however, was something he didn’t properly get before the final.

When Dahiya left the Makuhari Messe arena, in Tokyo’s outskirts, on Wednesday he weighed four kilos more than 57 kg. Cutting weight is the most stressful and traumatic part of this sport to avoid getting disqualified. This time, it was even more complicated.

Tokyo is the first Games where wrestling bouts have been held over two days, instead of a single day. For wrestlers, this means they have to maintain their weight for consecutive days.

So, already exhausted by competing in three bouts on Wednesday, Dahiya “reached the village and hit the gym right away”.

In Tokyo’s unbearable heat, he wore a woolen tracksuit, worked out for two hours, skipped dinner, didn’t sleep more than an hour because of anxiety, woke up, skipped breakfast and worked out for two more hours before leaving for the most important match of his career.

“I ate something only after I made the weight category,” he said. “But this happens, I fought hard but fell short.”

Dahiya showed a lot of courage and spunk to go toe-to-toe with his much-accomplished rival. But this bout proved to be one too many. He walked off the mat without much fanfare despite winning the silver, and stood alone in one corner of the stadium.

“Maybe this experience will help. Who knows? I came here with full preparation to win a gold medal. Now, I have to live with the fact that I just have silver,” he said.

In Dahiya’s mind, there is no dilemma: it was a gold medal lost.

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