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Two young guns from Haryana light up India’s show at the Tokyo Olympic Games

Ravi Kumar Dahiya is only the second Indian wrestler ever to enter the gold medal match at the Olympics. He will now take on Russia's Zavur Uguev, a two-time world champion, in the final (Image courtesy: Twitter/@KirenRijiju)

It does not happen often that the entire India is hooked on to any other sport while Virat Kohli's men are playing a game, that too in England. Just as the toss was happening at Trent Bridge, kickstarting a much-awaited India-England Test series, the Indian fans back home were tuned in to an intense wrestling bout taking place in another corner of the world. Down 2-9 in the 57kg freestyle semifinal against Kazakhstan's Nurislam Sanayev at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, India's Ravi Kumar Dahiya was keeping everyone on the edge, including a few dozen who were watching the action live with his family in the Nahri village of Sonipat district in Haryana.

The 23-year-old, who was making his Olympics debut, didn't disappoint them and millions of others who were praying for his victory. With just 50 seconds left on the clock and Sanayev showing signs of struggling with a knee injury – the Kazakh already had one on his head coming into the semis – Dahiya turned the tables scoring a two-point takedown and converted it to a pin – exposing both his opponent’s shoulders to the mat – to win the bout by fall and reach the Olympic finals.  

As a triumphant Dahiya stood up on the mat at Makuhari Messe, a large-scale convention centre located in Chiba in the Greater Tokyo area where the wrestling event is being conducted during the Games, celebrations went berserk, not just in the dusty Nahri but all over India.

It certainly called for a big celebration as Dahiya secured India's fourth medal at the ongoing Games, joining weightlifter Mirabai Chanu (silver), shuttler P V Sindhu (bronze) and boxer Lovlina Borgohain (bronze).  

He is also only the second Indian wrestler ever to enter the gold medal match at the Olympics. Sushil Kumar had made it to the final at the 2012 London Olympics, winning a silver. The wrestler from Sonipat will now take on Russia's Zavur Uguev, a two-time world champion, in the final.

Dahiya's feat capped off a fantastic Wednesday for the Indians in Tokyo which began with another 23-year-old from Haryana becoming the first Indian javelin thrower to enter an Olympic final.

Neeraj Chopra Tokyo Olympics

Making his Olympic debut, Neeraj Chopra topped the qualification round with a massive throw of 86.65m to cruise to the final which will take place on Saturday.

Chopra has already won a gold in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast (86.47m) and also at the Asian Games in Jakarta (88.06m). His terrific show at the Olympic Stadium today has bolstered India's hope of adding another medal to its tally just a day before the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.    

It also caps a dream run which began just to lose weight.

"My javelin career started when I went to the stadium in the nearby city of Panipat to try and lose some weight. I had grown up in the village of Khandra with my extended family of 17 people and I had played a little sport such as kabaddi and volleyball for fun but back then I was fat (90kg at the age of 12). I was sent to the stadium for fitness and while there I noticed the seniors throwing the javelin. I liked the way it flew through the air and one day I tried it, and it went well," Chopra told World Athletics about his javelin journey. 

In October 2012, Chopra threw the spear to a distance of 68.46m, a national Under-16 record, to realise that he indeed had a bright future in the sport. The young gun never looked back, winning the World Junior Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz back in 2016. Battling injuries, Chopra secured qualification for Tokyo with a throw of 87.86m in the ACNW League Meeting 1 in Potchefstroom, South Africa, to mark his return to competition after 16 months in rehabilitation. He improved his own National Record to 88.07m in the Indian Grand Prix 1 in Patiala on March 5, 2021. Subsequently, he has thrown 86.79m in the Kuortane Games in Finland on June 27, 2021.

He arrived in Tokyo full of confidence after training in Europe for months. And, also to settle some scores.

Just before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, Germany's star javelin thrower Johannes Vetter – nicknamed 'the Usain Bolt of the javelin' – had said that Chopra will find it difficult to beat him at the world's biggest sporting extravaganza.

"He (Chopra) threw good throws twice this year. Above 86m in Finland (86.79m at the Kuortane Games). If he is healthy and if he is in the right shape, especially in his technique, he can throw far. But he has to fight with me. I am looking to throw over 90m in Tokyo, so it will be tough for him to beat me," Vetter had said in a media interaction organised by World Athletics. 

However, on Wednesday morning, it was Chopra who got the better of the German champion who has breached the 90-metre mark seven times this year alone. In the qualification, Chopra's first attempt reached 86.65m while Vetter managed to make it to the final only with his last throw of 85.64m.

Saturday will be an entirely different affair though. As it is said, the top athletes save the very best until last. Another good show from Chopra will enable the Indian contingent to sign off from Tokyo on a high.  

Cricket? Well, for a change, it may have to take a backseat until then.  

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