India’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic silver-medallist in men’s 57kg freestyle wrestling, Ravi Kumar Dahiya’s dreams of establishing himself in the pre-Paris Olympic Games season are all but over as he has had to undergo surgery last week to get rid of the painful right knee.
The 25-year-old is among several elite sportspersons set to miss Hangzhou Asian Games scheduled to be held in September, due to impact of injuries.
Dahiya’s coach at Chhatrasal Stadium Jaiveer Dahiya confirmed that his trainee will be out of action for the Asian Games and the World Championships in September.
“We will see about the Paris Olympic Games [next year],” Jaiveer added.
Since Dahiya is undergoing rehab, he will be unavailable for the domestic selection trials for the September 16-24 World Championships slated to be held in Belgrade, Serbia.
The World Championships in Belgrade are the first Paris Olympic Games qualification competition. As per Wrestling Federation of India (WFI)’s Olympic Games selection policy, wrestlers winning quota places in a particular weight category will be subject to re-trial before the Olympic Games to ensure that the best and the fittest athlete represents the country.
“Wrestler winning 57kg quota place in Belgrade will have an advantage, but Dahiya also has a chance, although slim, to make cut for the Paris Olympic Games if he is able to dominate the final selection trials,” said Mahavir Prasad Bishnoi, a Dronacharya Awardee in wrestling.
Each national federation is eligible to field one wrestler in one weight category at the Olympic Games.
Apart from the 2023 World Championships, wrestlers will get two more chances to qualify for the Olympics, including at the 2024 Asian championship.
However, it will be interesting to see whether new office-bearers of the WFI — elections are scheduled to be held on August 12 – will make changes to the existing Olympic Games policy.
Dahiya’s recurring right knee injury hit him hard during the Asian Games selection trials late last month.
Riding high on enthusiasm but low on fitness, Dahiya lost his opening 57kg bout to Aatosh Todkar to bow out of the national selection trials held at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Sports Complex on July 23.
“It is unfortunate that Dahiya, whose training base is Capital’s iconic Chhatrasal Stadium, will be out of action for the remaining 2023 season,” Bishnoi added.
The star freestyle wrestler was diagnosed with an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) knee injury. He announced on his social media platform that he had to undergo surgery to get rid of the pain.
Bishnoi said knee injury is very common in freestyle wrestling.
“Wrestlers do get injured. Some make a comeback while others don’t,” he added.
According to Dr Ashok Ahuja, former head of the sports medicine centre at Patiala’s National Institute of Sports (NIS), recovery from an ACL injury, connecting thigh bone (femur) to shinbone (tibia) generally takes a minimum of 8-10 months.
“It takes a long time for an athlete to recover from an ACL knee surgery and make a comeback to competitive sports,” explained Ahuja.
The medical expert warned, saying that rushing back to competition without proper rehab could be serious.
“Recurring of an injury will delay return and could sometimes ruin a sports career.”
Ahuja said that a good monitoring system during rehab is crucial for the health of the injured player. “The role of physio is very important,” he added.
“There are three-four phases during rehab. Load should be gradual for Return to Play.”
Dahiya is lucky to have private sponsors as rehab is expensive and limited to few elite athletes, while those on the fringes don’t have the luxury of proper rehab, in case they get injured.
“We don’t even come to know about athletes who are yet to make a big impression at the national level and yet get injured and quit sports,” added Ahuja.
Post Tokyo Olympic Games, Dahiya hasn’t enjoyed a smooth run. He last competed at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and won gold in 57kg. However, at the beginning of 2023 season, he skipped the Asian Championships trials as he got injured in February. The Olympic medallist also skipped the Bishkek Ranking Series in June as he hurt his leg during a warm-up. It was Dahiya’s first competition of the season.
Instead of regaining full fitness, why did Dahiya jump into high voltage Asian Games selection trials?
According to Kuldeep Rana, assistant professor of psychology department at the National Sports University in Manipur, anxiety is supposed to be the main reason to rush back too early.
“Fear of losing fitness or incentives drive athletes to return to competition,” Rana said.
“In majority of cases, it has been observed that players rush back to competition even if they haven’t recovered, which results in getting injured again.”
Coping with the mind-set of the athlete during injury is the most important aspect of staying focused, Rana said.
“We speak to physio and doctor and then chalk out plans that are best to handle the situation,” the sports psychologist told Patriot.
Wrestling isn’t the only discipline that witnessed leading athletes being sidelined due to injury.
India’s 29-year-old world medallist in boxing, Mohammad Hussamuddin injured his knee on his way to winning bronze medal at World Boxing Championships held in Tashkent in May. He had to undergo surgery and is likely to miss the Asian Games in September. “We have advised him not to rush back because health is more important,” Dharmendra Yadav, national boxing coach said.
Uttar Pradesh’s promising javelin thrower Rohit Yadav will also miss the Asian Games due to shoulder injury. He will also miss the upcoming Budapest World Athletics Championships starting August 19 in Hungary.
While talented sprinter Rupal Chaudhary from Meerut, who won bronze at 2022 World U20 Athletics Championship in Colombia has been sidelined due to recurring knee injury since November 2022.
“It will take two-three months more for me to make a comeback to routine practice,” Rupal said. “I will miss the Asian Games in September.”
Tripura gymnast Dipa Karmakar, who hogged limelight for her outstanding feat during 2016 Rio Olympic Games, too has been struggling with knee injury post Rio Olympic Games. She missed the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games due to injuries.
However, she has recovered and qualified for the Asian Games.
Lack of awareness
According to Ahuja, niggle is part and parcel of competitive sports. Combat sports have different kinds of injuries, while injuries in non-combat sports like archery and shooting are of different nature.
India’s Olympic silver-medallist in women’s weightlifting, Mirabai Chanu often goes to USA for rehab.
“She is usually funded by the government. Otherwise, it is out of the reach of an ordinary athlete to go to USA for rehab,” Ahuja said.
If a minor niggle is overlooked, it can lead to a serious injury, Ahuja said.
“Athletes generally ignore early warning signs of injury that sometimes turn into career threatening if ignored. It is important to listen to your body. That is the best advice,” Ahuja explained.
According to Rana, majority of the athletes play sports in India to get jobs. “Due to insecurity they want to rush back, which does more harm than benefits.”