In his short career, many superlatives have been laden on Amit Kumar Dahiya's young shoulders. But a throwaway quote from Mahabali Satpal, the man who gave the country a wrestler of the calibre of Sushil Kumar, stands out.
“Amit is India's best bet to win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics,” Satpal had proclaimed.
In theory, Satpal's optimism was not unfounded.
As a teenager, Dahiya had won a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships in Budapest. A year later, a gold medal was dangling from his neck at the end of the Commonwealth Games.
Yet, Lady Luck can upset calculations like no one else can. In this case, she chose a knee injury to enforce her will on a man touted to be Sushil's heir apparent.
Consequently, the youngster, who was India’s youngest Olympian at the London Olympics, could not even make the cut for Rio four years later. The following months have been a constant battle for Dahiya, not just to shake off the injury, but also to get back at the level he used to be before the injury.
“There was a time (after the injury (when) I thought I'd leave wrestling. I got back to training and then got hurt again. This went on a few times. Then I thought, 'Yaar, main chodd du wrestling (Maybe I should just give up wrestling).' Slowly you get demoralised,” Dahiya tells Firstpost.
“Restarting my career was difficult, more so when everyone believed it was over. Nobody said it to my face, but they talked behind my back. My morale was down.
“In fact, my weight had piled up to 70 kg in December 2016 because I’d still eat like a wrestler but the working out was minimal. The main thing for me was to start controlling my food and eat the right stuff. Moreover, I could focus only on my upper body because the lower body wasn't working. Now I need to work on my lower body to get the balance right.
“After the injury, there was a lingering fear at the back of my mind of the leg getting rooted to the spot and the opponent attacking the knee,” he adds.
Dahiya adds that the last few years had become a cycle of frustration.
“You sit and rest for a long time, you start to feel you’re fine and get back to training. And just when you train like you used to before (at 100 percent) you feel a pain and you know everything’s not right. So the rehab starts again,” he says.
In the two years, Dahiya has had many false starts, losing in trials. In that period, he’s seen the emergence of grapplers like Rahul Aware and Sandeep Tomar.
“In these two years, I've been losing close bouts or losing in trials. I represented India in a few small tournaments like the recent ones in Iran and Russia. But the last major one was in Asian Games in 2014,” admits Dahiya.
As many of his contemporaries, including Sushil, are battling it out at the lucrative Pro Wrestling League in the capital, Dahiya was in Mumbai attending the launch of the Maharashtra Kushti League, where so far, he remains the only nationally recognisable name on the roster.
It is, in a way, a turn of the page for Dahiya. A fresh start. Another roll of the dice.
“I didn’t make the cut for the Commonwealth Games, but am looking to be fully fit in time for the trial for the Asian Games and the World Wrestling Championships.
“We improve with every competition we get to play in. When I play in this league, I'll get to know how my training has been going, what I need to work on and what I'm good at. Training main itna pata nahi lagta hai jo kushti main lagta hai (You get a better understanding of what level you’re playing at when you compete in an event),” says Dahiya.
The period on the fringes has also been a boon of sorts, he says. “Earlier if I lost a bout, I'd have it in my mind that I cannot lose again. When you compete at the big stage, you are wary of losing. There were always expectations. (But) Now there is no tension. When you're in the lower division, winning and losing are not that life-changing. Main abhi khul ke khel sakte hai (I can play more openly).”
Dahiya reckons he is now a different wrestler than the one he was in 2016. Older. And Slower.
“After these two years on the sidelines, my body has changed. My speed has gone down because of the knee injury. The upper body strength may have gone up, but speed has reduced. I've seen my old videos and compared it to the new ones. Now I have to train less for power but more for speed,” he says.
But that does not mean he is going to be overawed by younger and fitter competitiors.
“Earlier I used to tire my opponents out. The new boys who have come in Indian wrestling think that I'm old and they can tire me out. But people need to keep it in my mind that I'm just 24 and have a long way to go.”
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Updated Date: Jan 13, 2018 19:38:43 IST