Ask Sunny Dhinsa what it’s like to win a senior national wrestling title at the age of 17, and he’ll profess a certain amount of surprise.
At this point, though, Abbotsford wrestling observers are hardly astonished at the heavyweight prodigy’s exploits.
Last year, at the age of 16, Dhinsa won national gold in the junior (20-and-under) age class.
This year, he’s once again showcasing a penchant for arriving ahead of schedule. At the national championships in Edmonton last weekend, Dhinsa collected a trio of medals in the 120 kilogram division: gold in the senior Greco-Roman and the junior freestyle, and silver in the senior freestyle.
The podium finishes in the open senior divisions are particularly impressive, given that Dhinsa is still in his senior year at W.J. Mouat Secondary.
“Junior, I thought I had a good chance to win,” said Dhinsa. “But I figured senior would be kind of a bloodbath. I’d never wrestled at that level before, and everyone’s good. There’s no weak opponents.”
Dhinsa’s read on the competition was accurate, to an extent. After breezing his way to a second consecutive junior title, he did indeed find his open-division opponents to be much tougher.
The thing is, he won anyway.
The Greco-Roman discipline, which forbids holds below the waist, is relatively new for Dhinsa. He began training for it to take advantage of his impressive upper-body strength, and in the national final, he defeated Charles Thoms of the Black Bear Wrestling Club from Fredricton, N.B.
In the senior freestyle event, Dhinsa dropped a hard-fought decision to Arjan Bhullar in the final. There’s no shame in that defeat – Bhullar, a Richmond native, won gold at the Commonwealth Games last year, and he came within a whisker of qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“We actually train together out of Burnaby Mountain (wrestling club), and as a kid growing up, I always watched him wrestle,” said Dhinsa, who is considering an athletic scholarship offer from Simon Fraser University.
“I didn’t know I’d be wrestling him this soon, but it was good because I know I’ve moved up in levels really quick and I’m competing against the best in Canada already.”
Jim Mitchell, the longtime wrestling coach at Mouat and an Olympic official, said that Dhinsa is the most decorated high school wrestler to ever come through his program.
By Mitchell’s count, Dhinsa’s double-gold performance last week brings his total number of national titles in various age classes to nine. He could add to that count next week, when he travels to Windsor for his final crack at juvenile (18-and-under) nationals.
“He’s now ranked No. 2 overall in Canada in his weight class, and for a kid who’s 17 going on 18, that’s pretty amazing,” Mitchell said.
Dhinsa’s stellar performance last week ensured he’ll be doing extensive travel on behalf of Team Canada in the coming months. In May, he’ll attend the Pan American senior championships in Rionegro, Colombia. In July, he’s off to Bucharest, Romania for the junior worlds.
Dhinsa believes he could medal at both events.
“I know I’m as strong as some of those guys, and I might even be stronger than most of them,” he said. “It’s just the experience part of it – they’ve got more than me. But this is how I gain experience, so it should be good.”
The Phulka brothers, Chanmit and Jasmit, also excelled at nationals. Chanmit, a Rick Hansen Secondary grad, won the 96 kg junior title. Younger brother Jasmit, a senior at Hansen, took silver in the highly competitive 74 kg junior division.
Chanmit Phulka will join Dhinsa on Canada’s entry at the junior worlds, while Jasmit will wear the maple leaf at the Pan-Am junior championships.
On the womens’ side, Abbotsford’s Nikkie Brar finished fourth in the junior 51 kg class.