Wrestling Nationals: With a shift in weight category, Amit Dahiya wishes for a change in fortunes

Wrestling Nationals: With a shift in weight category, Amit Dahiya wishes for a change in fortunes

Wrestling Nationals: With a shift in weight category, Amit Dahiya wishes for a change in fortunes

wrestler left in the hall at the Punjab Armed Police Complex, Jalandhar. He is applying some final touches to his training before competing at the senior National Championships which begin on Friday.

On a normal day, Dahiya would have not been so nervous about wrestling at a competition but on Thursday, he wanted everything to be perfect. He checked his weight which was 66 kg – one more than the category he will be competing in at the tournament.

More than four years after his last competition in the 57 kg weight category, Dahiya, who will be wrestling for Jharkhand after not being cleared to wrestle for Haryana, has decided to move up two weight categories to 65 kg to revive his career, which has not seen any success since winning the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medal.

There are more than one reasons to change the category. The trouble he puts his body through in reducing weight with age taking a toll on his performance and body.

“I used to cut a lot of weight to adjust to the 57 kg category,” Dahiya said. “Now, it’s easier in 65 kg. 61 kg doesn’t have the high level of competition like 65, so I thought to wrestle in a category which has good competition.”

The weight reduction was so difficult that he would lose so much energy by the time he’d come out to wrestle the next day.

 

“The competition schedule has changed [to two days] and I won’t get much time for recovery,” he said. “So I used to lose a lot of power in reducing my weight. Now I have to use the power in wrestling.”

When he steps on the mat on Friday, he will face some of the top wrestlers in the category in India. Former junior Asian champion Sharvan Tomar will be his biggest test along with Suraj Kokate and Maharashtra’s Sonba Tanaji, against whom he competed at last year’s tournament in 61 kg.

That was also the last time Dahiya wrestled competitively. Since then, he got married, took a break from the sport and returned to revive his once promising career.

Eight years ago, Dahiya stormed onto the wrestling scene by winning the 55 kg title at the 2012 Asian Championships aged just 17, and a year later, qualified for the London Olympics. He created a huge upset by beating then world champion Hassan Rahimi before losing in quarter-finals and then in repechage.

 

At the 2013 World Championships, he became only the third Indian wrestler to reach the final. He had to settle for a silver after losing a close final to Rahimi, but it meant that India had found a new wrestling superstar after Sushil Kumar.

But a relatively unsuccessful 2015 and an injury to right knee in 2016 almost ended his career.

“Everyone wrote me off,” he said. “Injury brought my confidence down so much that I thought I should get married and get done with my [wrestling] career. I got married and took a one-year break. Then I’d decided that I should give wrestling another shot. I also have a job so if I leave training, then I have to return to my duties.”

Dahiya has struggled to match the same results that he achieved in 57 kg since the injury. Younger wrestlers such as Sandeep Tomar, Ravi Dahiya and Naveen Sihag have stepped up.

 

But for Daihya, it was never about 57 kg or any other weight category. He believes that a wrestler’s peak comes only once – something he achieved before 2015.

“I wasn’t the top wrestler in 57 kg either,” he said. “Rahul Aware was the top guy and I was the only one who could beat him. He doesn’t lose to anyone than me in India.”

“My peak came and disappeared,” he said. “However hard I try, I cannot match the previous one. During that time, there wasn’t too much thought that went into my process; you just do things with an open mind; that you won’t get injured; not thinking too much about losses. You just keep winning and don’t realise that you’re operating at the peak.”

He is also satisfied that he cannot reach that the levels he’d touched many years ago. “I am satisfied. I got things much before everyone else and I don’t think ‘God did this to me’. It’s okay.”

 

A product of Chhatarsaal stadium, Dahiya’s first hiccup was in 2015 during the selection trials for the World Championships. He pulled off a last-second victory over Tomar after training for most of the bout. He lost in the quarter-final of Las Vegas tournament.

Later, he lost the selection trials of Asian Olympic qualifiers before injuring his knee.

“The injury was really bad. I became very nervous and could never recover,” he said. “I would not have gone down or lost confidence. I was in rehab all the time. Then, when people started defeating me, they became more confident. So, these things work in the wrong way.”

The time away from mat was also frustrating. “I used to watch wrestling when I was injured,” he said. “I used to think that wrestlers of my level and my time are still wrestling. I have defeated some of them. I felt that I’d have fallen behind in the pecking order.”

 

What added to the plight was his family’s pressure. “Parents don’t understand much. They want you to win all the time. I have to tell that I am trying and it will be okay. They say: ‘look at the other guy who is still wrestling’. How do I make them understand?”

Perhaps a gold-medal finish at the national championships will be a fitting comeback after the lows of his career. Since the winner of the tournament also gets to represent India at the South Asian Games next month, Dahiya is optimistic he can make the cut.

“I have a chance to make a comeback and I want to win gold. The winner goes to Nepal and that is what I am targetting here,” he said. “Anyone can beat any other wrestler. So if someone else is the top guy, then I can replace him to be the top guy.”