Ravi Dahiya had the golden opportunity to etch his name in the history books and bring the highest laurel to the already rich history of Indian wrestling. Taking on ROC’s Zavur Uguev, Dahiya had the chance to become the first Indian wrestler to become an Olympic champion since 2012. Sushil Kumar had made it to the final of the London Games, losing in Men’s freestyle 66 kg to Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu. Dahiya though could not get the better of Uguev. However, that does not take away the fact that he is an Olympic silver-medallist – that too at the age of only 23. And that age factor is something Yogeshwar Dutt, London Games’ bronze medallist in men’s 60 kg freestyle, feels will help him become an Olympic champion in three years’ time in Paris.
Speaking exclusively to News18.com Yogeshwar Dutt weighs in on Dahiya’s achievement, his future among other things.
What do you think of Ravi Dahiya’s achievement of winning a silver medal for Indian wrestling?
This is a huge achievement for Ravi as well as for Indian wrestling in general. We won six medals in London and after that in Rio we could manage only two and now again we are standing at five. Wrestling getting a silver medal for country is a great contribution. Of course, we all were looking for gold but let’s face it, the Russian (ROC) wrestler was a better opponent on the day. Ravi fought really well.
Is the glass half empty or half full for you when you look at Ravi’s result in Tokyo?
I will tell you, yes you don’t get an opportunity to win an Olympic gold every time and it was a rare opportunity for us as a nation. But, can you hold it against him? He did what he could. He gave his best and we must appreciate that. Expecting him to win gold was fine but thinking that silver is a failure is not appropriate. If has won the silver today, he is definitely capable of winning gold. His mindset should be the same.
Sushil Kumar is the only Olympian, not just a wrestler from India, who was able to change/upgrade the colour of his medal. Do you think Ravi can do better than Sushil?
The good thing about Ravi is that he is still so young and it was his first Olympics only. The way he fought back in the semi-final was amazing and again he fought valiantly even though he couldn’t win the final. He should now start preparing for gold which he can certainly win in Paris in 2024. The way he has worked hard and if continues the same way, I have no doubt that he will change the colour of his medal.
Indian wrestlers are now being seen as strong contenders regardless of weight category or gender. That must be very pleasing for you as a former wrestler?
Earlier, the overseas wrestlers used to take us very lightly but now they fear us. The reason is that we have beaten the wrestlers from almost every nation and that has helped us in gaining a reputation.
What makes wrestling such a successful sport for India since we have been winning medal in every games since 2008? Do you think that the sports need more encouragement from others?
The mindset has changed. Gone are those days where the wrestlers used to go to just participate. Nowadays, any tournament in the world, the Indian wrestlers go with a belief of winning and that’s a remarkable change in terms of attitude over the last one decade. The hunger is there to win at every cost and that is why I am very disappointed with the result of Vinesh Phogat. She had worked so hard for the last 5 years, especially after overcoming the injury in Rio.
So, what went wrong in her bout?
I think she looked under pressure. She couldn’t cope with that. She was the better wrestler, but in sports, such upsets do happen and I only wish her best and hope she does better.
What about Bajrang Punia, who like Vinesh, has a great reputation and expectations behind him?
I am confident that he too will win a medal. Can’t predict the colour of the medal but he should win a medal.
If you were to pick one moment which has transformed the scene of wresting in this country?
I think the period from 2008-12 was the turning point. First medal of the sport came in 1952 (KD Jadhav) but that was a different era altogether. Like Indian hockey scene will be changed from today after this bronze medal because a gap of 41 years is a long long time without any medal.
Do you think if wrestling gets more support from everyone, our medal tally will increase further from this sport alone in future?
Sure, it will help. We are lacking in facilities and infrastructure at the grass root level and that needs to be addressed. We should try to focus on those places where a 10-year-old kid should get all the facilities so that when he comes to the senior level, he is matured. He should not be bothered about food and medical facilities at the beginning because once they reach a certain level and go to the camp; they get foreign coaches and all kinds of support.
Finally, are you satisfied with the display of the wrestling contingent or have they disappointed you?
No, no… I am very satisfied as they lived up to the expectations so far. Honestly, I am still sad for Vinesh and also for Deepak Punia who was in contention until the last few seconds for bronze. It could certainly have been better with few more medals. Three at least. Still, some more medals may come in the coming days.
The same can be said about the overall performance of the whole Olympics contingent?
Certainly, shooting has been a big letdown, but I personally want that we should do better than London. I am still hopeful of 7-8 medals as Neeraj Chopra is still there. However, I have a request to all of you that let’s not judge the Olympians merely by results. They need your support and encouragement and good wishes and if we can provide that I am sure we will become a top sporting nation in coming years.