Between Ravi Dahiya and CWG 2022 glory, a draining weight cut

Reducing weight in quick time to be eligible to compete in Birmingham may perhaps be a bigger challenge for the wrestler than winning all the bouts for the likely gold medal. But Dahiya is leaving nothing to chance; to accommodate some extra days of training at the Chhatrasal Stadium in New Delhi, he is not even attending the opening ceremony of the Games.

Subdued: Ravi Dahiya during the 57kg semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics in August, 2021. He went on to win silver. With his accomplishments, Dahiya was nominated for the Khel Ratna award and he had to accept it despite not wanting it. He wanted the Arjuna award instead but his feats had become outsized for it.

Subdued: Ravi Dahiya during the 57kg semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics in August, 2021. He went on to win silver. With his accomplishments, Dahiya was nominated for the Khel Ratna award and he had to accept it despite not wanting it. He wanted the Arjuna award instead but his feats had become outsized for it. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Reducing weight in quick time to be eligible to compete in Birmingham may perhaps be a bigger challenge for the wrestler than winning all the bouts for the likely gold medal. But Dahiya is leaving nothing to chance; to accommodate some extra days of training at the Chhatrasal Stadium in New Delhi, he is not even attending the opening ceremony of the Games.

Before he steps on the mat at the Commonwealth Games, Ravi Dahiya will have to overcome the steepest obstacle between him and a gold medal — a weight cut he has to undergo to be eligible to compete.

Walking around at a pre-competition weight of around 62kg, the Olympic silver medallist has already started the gruelling process by which he will slip into the 57kg category he will compete in at Coventry. At New Delhi’s Chhatrasal stadium where he trains, Dahiya, whose body fat percentage is already in single digits, has started skipping rotis from his meals. Even in that calorie deficient state, training continues as usual. In the last couple of days before his bouts, he will start reducing his water intake while training in clammy plastic jackets to sweat out the last tricky grams of excess fluid. It’s draining and exhausting routine.

“Cutting weight is very hard. And you have to do it before every competition. If you are a wrestler, there’s no way around it,” he tells Sportstar.

The bouts in Birmingham, on the other hand, will likely not be anywhere as challenging.

Hot favourite

India’s wrestlers have typically done well at the Commonwealth Games, a competition which has always been of a far lower standard than the World Championships or even the Asian Games or the Asian Championships.

However, it’s unlikely there will be more of a mismatch than the one on the 6th of August when Dahiya steps on the mat in Coventry.

Dahiya is one of the best wrestlers in the world in his weight division at the moment. With Russia barred from international competition for the immediate future, the Olympic silver medallist is arguably the best in active competition.

The 24-year-old has been unbeaten in three competitions he’s competed in this year including winning his third Asian Championships. In contrast, the toughest opponent Dahiya is likely to face in Coventry will be Canada’s Darthe Capellan whose highest profile result came six years ago when he won gold at the 2016 Pan American championships in a depleted field that didn’t include an American.

This isn’t expected to be a competition for Dahiya as much as it will be a coronation. It will of course be for a relatively minor crown. There is a bit of irony to this. In October last year, Dahiya had put India’s sporting authorities in a rather unusual fix. With an Olympic silver medal under his belt, Dahiya had rightly been nominated for the country’s highest sporting honour — the Khel Ratna. There was just one problem — Dahiya didn’t want it. Instead he had wanted the country’s other prestigious sporting award — the Arjuna Award — which his achievements had suddenly become outsized for. Ultimately, Dahiya had to quietly accept the bigger award.

Reverse order

Dahiya can see the funny side to this.

“Normally in India, the first big medal for most wrestlers is the Commonwealth Games and then the Asian Games, then the world championships and the Olympics. I started out with a medal at the world championships and the Olympics and now I’m competing at the Commonwealth Games,” he says. “But I don’t have any control in the order of which I compete for things. Jo cheez haath mein nahin hai uspe kya baat karni hai (Why talk about things that are not in your hands)? I have to perform at whichever tournament I compete in,” he says.

The Commonwealth Games might not be particularly tough but it’s important enough for Dahiya. “This year, the World Championships (in September) are the major tournament for me. But the Commonwealth Games are also important for the country,” he says.

The Games were important enough for Dahiya to skip the Rome Ranking Series, one of the international wrestling calendar’s premier build-up tournaments, in order to complete the biometric requirements needed to get a visa to the United Kingdom.

Ravi Dahiya with his gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, in April. The Commonwealth Games were important enough for Dahiya to skip the Rome Ranking Series, one of the international wrestling calendar’s premier build-up tournaments, in order to complete the biometric requirements needed to get a visa to the United Kingdom. After the Birmingham Games, Dahiya’s focus will shift to the World Championships scheduled for September.

Ravi Dahiya with his gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, in April. The Commonwealth Games were important enough for Dahiya to skip the Rome Ranking Series, one of the international wrestling calendar’s premier build-up tournaments, in order to complete the biometric requirements needed to get a visa to the United Kingdom. After the Birmingham Games, Dahiya’s focus will shift to the World Championships scheduled for September. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

He admits that heading to the Commonwealth Games as the Olympic silver and world bronze medallist means there are a lot more expectations from him. “I have to win a gold for the country. It might not have been the case before I won medals at the Worlds and Olympics, but right now that is what the country expects I will do.”

‘No pressure’

Despite the weight of expectations, Dahiya isn’t feeling any nerves. “There’s no pressure. The only thought in my mind is to give my 100 per cent. But that’s how I feel before any competition. It might have been harder in the past, but the more tournaments you compete in, the better you get. I’ve played so many tournaments that it doesn’t really worry me any more,” he says. Despite his favourite status, it’s not that Dahiya is taking the tournament lightly. At Chhatrasal stadium he’s training with the same intensity that he always has. “ Training chalti rehti hai (Training goes on as usual) . We know that we can’t take anyone lightly or easily. Everyone will come having trained to the best of their ability. It’s not in our control to decide the level of our opponents. Our purpose is to train to the best of our ability,” he says.

It’s something he’s learned from experience. “Sometimes we do take someone too lightly and then find out we shouldn’t have done that. In the 2020 World Cup (in Belgrade), I went into my first match with a Hungarian, thinking he was an easy opponent (Gamzatgazsi Halidov had only finished 15th at the U-23 World championships the previous year). He was a wrestler who didn’t even have a very good record, so, I thought I’d beat him easily. In my mind, I was already thinking of my next bout. And I ended up getting pinned,” he says.

Preparation mode

It will take a brave man to bet on a repeat happening next month or even that Dahiya will have to spend the entire six-minute duration of his matches on the mat.

Dahiya, though, isn’t leaving anything to chance. Indeed, Dahiya isn’t even planning on attending the competition’s opening ceremony and will only travel to Birmingham on the 30th of the month so that he can get a few extra days of training at Chhatrasal stadium. “People say that the opening ceremony of these games are a very special occasion but it doesn’t matter to me. No one really cares if we are having a good time or not. There are certain expectations of us. The only thing that matters is whether we win a gold medal or not. After the event you can probably celebrate but until you have that medal, the only focus is on the mat,” he says.

While the Games will be the summit of the careers of many athletes, for Dahiya, it’s business as usual. His targets are a lot further on the horizon.

“All these tournaments are important. The more you compete, the better you become as a wrestler. The Commonwealth Games are important but after this we have the World Championships and then from the next year we have the qualification tournaments for the Olympics. And the final goal will be to win a gold in Paris,” he says.

All that is in the future, though. For now, Dahiya’s looking just as far as the weighing scales in his room at Chhatrasal Stadium.

“That’s one thing that never is easy. I’ve tried to do it in multiple ways but it’s always hard. No matter how many times I’ve done it and no matter how many times I have to do it, it’s always going to be difficult,” he says.

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