As 18-year-old Gourav Baliyan made his way to collect his gold medal after the 74 Kg freestyle final against Praveen Rana in Jalandhar on Friday, blood was oozing out of his right ear. Baliyan had just won the bragging lights in India’s most competitive weight category, which has featured the likes of double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar. He was competing in the nationals after submitting a medical certificate despite turning 18 last month.
“I had competed in the U-23 nationals on the same condition. It means that I have to get a medical certificate as I turned 18 in October. If I get injured, me and my coach are responsible. To win a medal, I’ve to go through these requirements. To become the champion in the 74 Kg, which has seen the likes of Sushil bhai, is a huge thing for me and my family,” says Baliayan.
“When I started wrestling, I did not know about the Olympics. But winning this title has helped me realise that I can also do well in the trials and go to the Asian qualifiers and bag an Olympic quota. The academy where I train has been renamed Olympic Target academy and that is my target.”
Son of a farmer, who died in 2010 of cancer, Baliyan was introduced to the sport by uncle Krishan at his village Sorum in Muzzafarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh in 2012. With his mother Babita Devi working as an anganvadi helper in the village, the youngster soon started training under coach Nirdosh Baliyan. His first big break was winning the National School Games title in Pune in 2016. The youngster became the U-17 national champion in 2017 in the 69 Kg category before successfully defending his title last year and claiming the silver medal in the 71 Kg category at the World Cadet Wrestling Championships in Croatia.
Earlier this year, Baliyan became the junior national champion in the 74 Kg category and reached the repechage second round at the world U-23 Championships last month.
“Initially when I started training in mud, I thought about my father and uncle being wrestlers and wanted to carry their legacy forward. I won the state title for five years in succession but I see that as a learning experience. Now my coach tells me that I have never lost in the nationals and today was my seventh national title . I have only lost in the last three years in village dangals, apart from the trials for Asian U-23 or World U-23,” Baliyan said.
“Last year, I competed in the World Cadet Championships and the silver medal, after I was leading 6-2 with only 20 seconds left against Bagrati Gagnidze of Georgia but lost, also helped me learn many things. It taught me to have patience in the last minutes of bouts too and not relax till the end.”
With India yet to seal a quota in the 74 Kg category and the last chance being next year’s Asian Qualifiers, Baliyan has his task cut out – first to win the trials and then aim to seal the quota. Coach Nirdosh Baliyan believes the ability to make comebacks is the biggest quality of his ward.
“Gaurav comes from a poor family and the initial losses in the state tournaments made him mentally strong. One thing which he has learnt during all these years is to defeat the opponent by making him tired and apart from physical moves, he shows mental toughness. If he can do that in the trials and qualifiers, maybe he can add an eighth medal to his medal bag,” shared the coach.
To bag a quota, Baliyan may have to go through his idol and legend. He feels competing against Sushil will itself be like winning a medal. “I have never met Sushil bhai. I have watched him train and compete in the trials and to face him in the trials will be like a dream come true for me,” said Baliyan.
Federation chief Sharan on the mic
It was commentary time for Wrestling Federation of India president Brijbhushan Sharan Singh as the three-time chief took the mic to offer his insights and issue orders to referees and players alike during the opening day of the Senior National Wrestling Championship in Jalandhar. From asking referees to speed up the bouts to advising players on challenges, Singh had an opinion on everything. He was also heard giving orders to the marching contingent during the opening ceremony. Later in the day, Singh was also seen urging the crowds gathered in front of the stage to watch the bouts from some other spot and asking grapplers and referees to speed up matches so that they could taste the Punjabi dishes on offer.