Giant-killer Aman Sehrawat ready for first step towards Olympics 

- April 17, 2024

The 20-year-old Chhatrasal Stadium trainee, who surprised 2020 Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Ravi Dahiya in national trials, will be competing at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers and is hopeful

EXCHANGING NOTES: Aman Sehrawat (left) chats with coach Lalit Kumar after winding up training

Aman Sehrawat, the Hangzhou Asian Games bronze medallist in men’s 57 kg Freestyle wrestling, will be a marked man during the upcoming Asian Olympic Qualifiers scheduled to be held from April 19 to 21 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. 

On his way to winning a ticket to Bishkek, the promising freestyle wrestler based out of Chhatrasal Stadium in North Delhi got the better of more illustrious wrestler and Tokyo Games silver medallist, Ravi Dahiya, to stay in the race for a berth for the upcoming Olympics. 

The winners of the national selection trials, in Olympic weight categories in both Freestyle and Greco-Roman, were selected for the competition. Sehrawat will be among 17 wrestlers shortlisted by Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) for the upcoming qualification event.

The competition will feature all three formats of wrestling — men’s Freestyle and Greco-Roman and women’s Freestyle. 

Sehrawat has lived under the shadow of Dahiya, who also trains at the Chhatrasal Stadium and competes in the 57 kg category. 

However, this season, the 20-year-old has looked hungrier than his celebrated rival, who is returning after a layoff due to knee injury, and wants to etch a name for himself in the history of Indian wrestling by excelling at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games starting July 26. 

MACHINES: The Multi-Gym at the Chhatrasal Stadium where wrestlers do strength training

For the record, Indian wrestlers have been winning medals at each edition of the Olympic Games since 2008. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games held in 2021, Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Ravi Dahiya (57kg) won bronze and silver respectively in the men’s Freestyle competition.

Sehrawat started his 2024 season with a bang, winning gold medal at the Zagreb Grand Prix meet in January. He continued with his good form at the National Selection Trials held recently in Sonepat, Haryana, to outplay Dahiya, his senior colleague at Chhatrasal Stadium, to earn ticket to the continental Olympic qualification event. 

“I am fit and healthy,” he told Patriot after his weekend training session. “I’m focussed on facing the challenges during the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Bishkek.” 

Sehrawat had earlier failed to secure Olympic quota place in men’s 57kg Freestyle at the 2023 World Wrestling Championships held in Belgrade, Serbia. 

“He was a bit unlucky during the global meet in Serbia,” said Lalit Kumar, his coach. “He has learned from his past experience and would make no mistake at the upcoming Asian Olympic Qualifier.”

Home advantage 

Kumar, recipient of prestigious Dronacharya Award in wrestling for 2023 season, said he prefers his students to practice on home ground prior to a major competition. 

PREPARED: Olympic medallist Ravi Dahiya (right) gets ready for about during training. Dahiya lost to Aman during national trials

“This is because there are less chances of being distracted,” said the wrestling coach.

According to the Dronacharya Awardee, foreign exposure ahead of important competition might fit into the scheme of some wrestlers, but he is an advocate of practicing on home ground during competitive season prior to major events. 

“I’m of the opinion that international exposure is good in off-season as it is more convenient to adapt to new techniques, if any. However, incorporating new techniques in the competitive season can be detrimental in an important international competition.”

Perhaps this could be one of the reasons, Sehrawat has opted to stay at Chhatrasal under Kumar. 

“There is no dearth of sparring partners here,” said Kumar. “We have good wrestlers in almost all the weight categories. Having a wide range of sparring partners is good to polish mat skills.” 

Disciplined life

Wrestlers aiming to excel at international level follow a strict regimen at the Chhatrasal Stadium. The morning session starts as early as 4.30 am and continues until 8 am. The evening session begins at 4.30 in the evening and lasts until 7.30 to 8 pm.

Being a combat sport, wrestlers have to ensure they stay injury free and healthy. The daily practice routine generally includes physical fitness, workout in the gym and polishing skills on the mat. 

“The practice routine is slightly different in the off-season when there is no major competition,” added the wrestling coach. 

Home of champions

Wrestling and Chhatrasal Stadium are synonymous.  The stadium is run by the Delhi Government. Several wrestling stars of the past and present have been associated with it in one way or the other, which is why it is known as the ‘Home of Champions’ in wrestling circles

Double Olympic Games medallist Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt (2012 London Games medallist), Bajrang Punia (Tokyo Olympic Games medallist), Ravi Dahiya (Tokyo Olympic Games medallist), Deepak Punia (fourth at Tokyo Olympic Games) are some of the star wrestlers who have honed their competitive skills at Chhatrasal Stadium. There are several others who have won laurels at the Asian and Commonwealth Games and have practiced at the venue.

The stadium, however, was in news for the wrong reason in May, 2021 as the name of double Olympic Games medallist Sushil Kumar surfaced in the alleged murder of a junior wrestler. Sushil was an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) from the Railways and posted at Chhatrasal Stadium at the time of the incident. 

Following the incident, there were speculations that Delhi Government would shut down wrestling activities at the stadium. 

“That was the time when parents weren’t willing to send their children to practice here,” a senior wrestler said. “The overall strength of the wrestlers staying at Chhatrasal too decreased.”

However, tireless efforts of coaches, including Kumar, helped rebuild the confidence. Dahiya restored the faith of parents with the silver at Tokyo Olympics.

Currently there are more than 160 wrestlers in different age groups staying at the stadium. Prominent among them are Olympic Games medallist Ravi Dahiya, Deepak Punia, Sumit Malik besides Sehrawat.

“Sehrawat has potential to win a medal at the Olympics,” the coach said.

He shot to fame at the global level in 2018, with a bronze at World Cadet meet in 51kg. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.

While Lalit Kumar is the Head Coach, Jaiveer Singh, Ajeet Mann, Pradeep Dahiya and Dharmendra are assistant wrestling coaches at the stadium. 

The coaches run a cooperative kitchen for the players and charge a nominal fee of Rs 3,000 from every wrestler. This includes boarding. 

“There is accommodation and practice facilities at the stadium,” said the head coach. 

“Coaches and senior players contribute for good wrestlers who are from humble backgrounds and can’t afford monthly fees for boarding and lodging.” 

The coaches and the wrestlers also joined hands to improve the facilities. There are four wrestling mats and a multi-gym in the basement of the stadium, Kumar said. 

“The Delhi Government has sanctioned funds for wrestling equipment from time to time, but there is need for more as the country’s top wrestlers practice here,” the coach added. 

“There are physios and masseur available to support the players. Some players like Ravi Dahiya also have personal physio.” 

Education key

The Dronacharya Awardee believes young wrestlers need to update themselves regularly on training, nutrition and health. 

“I strongly believe that wrestlers should consult medical experts before taking supplements. Otherwise, it will be of no benefit,” Lalit Kumar said. 

Elite wrestlers practicing seven to eight hours a day in two practice sessions need a good diet. 

GETTING READY: Wrestlers at the Chhatrasal Stadium warm up for the practice sessions

“Recovery is also important. Proper rest, hydration and good nourishing food aids in faster recovery. We update our wrestlers on all this from time to time,” added the wrestling coach.

He added, “Youngsters below the age of 18 should avoid food supplements and should focus on natural food.”