GOLD COAST: Omitted/dropped/excluded/ not in form... are the recurring words that have peppered Rahul Aware’s decade-long career.
Not from the powerful North lobby, he is always considered an outsider, at times treated as an outcast. Dismissed as someone who doesn’t have the jigar (heart) to excel at the highest level, he has been pushed to fringes despite being one of the top wrestlers in the national camp. Sometimes even ridiculed by his teammates and coaches alike, the wrestler from Maharashtra was never embraced into the fold.
“I was the only Maharashtrian in the team and acceptability was hard to come by,” he said. When he extended his lead and was comfortably controlling the match here at Carrara Sports Precinct on Thursday, Aware pulled a muscle in his right leg, as the clock ticked towards the end.
He grimaced, fell down on the mat and was wreathing in pain. This close to gold, he couldn’t have given up. Those days of humiliation raced through his mind — when he had to run away from the airport complaining of bias just before the Olympics in Rio.
When his coaches felt he did not have the temperament to win big games. Physical pain is easier to endure than mental agony.
As adrenaline flowed and made the pain bearable, Rahul went about his job with renewed vigour against Canada’s Steven Takahashi in the 57kg final.
In the end, the score read 15-7. As soon as the final buzzer was sounded, he lay on the mat motionless. Probably out of joy or maybe because of relief after having got rid of a burden. He broke down. He was inconsolable.
“I had to wait 10 years,” he said, eyes turning red due to excessive rubbing.
“I have been hoping for this medal for the past 10 years. I couldn’t let it slip. I have been dreaming about this moment.”
Injury was too trivial a reason for him to quit. “My leg was injured, but when you are fighting for the country, you tend to forget all that. My coaches’ and parents’ wishes came true today.” Eyes turned moist as he recalled the days when he used to train with his guru in Pune.
He missed him in the moment of his greatest triumph. “I dedicate this medal to my guru who passed away in 2012,” he said.
Aware had prepared for this bout with videos. “I had watched videos of my opponent,” said the 26-year-old, who rued a mistake he committed in the first round when the Canadian took advantage of his hold and scored two points. “But as the bout progressed, I think his stamina and power waned.”
Aware did not forget to mention his idols. “I have learnt a lot from Sushil (Kumar) and Yogeshwar (Dutt). It is due to them that we are doing well.”
Despite not figuring in the Delhi and Glasgow Commonwealth Games, he did not stop working hard. Though at times he thought of quitting, he never gave up.
“My coach is also a CWG medallist and I take pride in saying that today I have also achieved the same.” With the gold, Aware will now be focussing on Asian Games.