Abbotsford wrestler Sunny Dhinsa won a bronze medal at the Junior World Wrestling Championships in Bulgaria last week.

Abbotsford wrestler Sunny Dhinsa won a bronze medal at the Junior World Wrestling Championships in Bulgaria last week.

Wrestler Dhinsa climbs podium at Junior Worlds

Abbotsford's Sunny Dhinsa ended a long medal drought for Canadian male wrestlers at the Junior World Championships, winning bronze.

The living room of the Dhinsa family home doubles as a wrestling museum, and an impressive one at that.

Hundreds of medals won by Sunny Dhinsa, some dating back to when he was five years old, hang on a rope which runs along the wall, just below the ceiling. On the mantle and in front of the fireplace, banners, sashes, posters and trophies are displayed. There’s even a “lucha libre” wrestling mask, which Dhinsa earned for finishing second at the 2011 Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Prompted to show off his most recent prize – which also happens to be his favourite – the 20-year-old Abbotsford grappler retrieves a bronze medal from amongst the spoils of victory.

It’s a simple medal with a plain three-colour ribbon attached – like something minor hockey tournament organizers might have ordered from a local trophy shop.

But it’s somewhat more significant than that. It’s from the FILA Junior World Wrestling Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, and commemorates Dhinsa’s third-place finish in the heavyweight (120 kg) freestyle division last week. According to Wrestling Canada, it’s the first medal for a Canadian male at the Junior Worlds in three decades – Gary Holmes, who would go on to represent Canada at two Olympics, won silver in 1983.

“After the tournament . . . I came back from the drug testing room, and I was like, ‘This is it? This is all we get?'” Dhinsa said with a chuckle, referring to the medal. “But my dad goes, ‘How much money do you want for it? Would you sell it?’ And I said no. It’s priceless.”

The most recent Junior Worlds marked Dhinsa’s fourth appearance the event, and he was determined to climb the podium after coming home disappointed each of the previous three years.

After making short work of Ukrainian opponent Andriy Vlasov in the first round, he dropped an 8-0 decision to eventual gold medalist Geno Petriashvili of Georgia in the quarter-finals.

That ended his title hopes, but he battled his way through the back side of the draw, beating Slim Trabelsi of Tunisia and Russia’s Georgii Gogaev (the defending cadet world champ) to clinch the bronze.

Dhinsa said he was “devastated” following his quarter-final loss, and noted that if his draw had been more favourable, he might have upgraded to silver. The semifinalists on the other side of the draw were from Azerbaijan and Iran, and he’d beaten both wrestlers at previous tourneys.

“We had a three-hour break (after the quarter-finals), and I had time to think – this is my last junior worlds, so I might as well give it all,” he said.

“It feels awesome (to win bronze),” he added. “It’s huge for me, it’s huge for Wrestling Canada.”

Dhinsa came within a whisker of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics in the Greco-Roman variety of the sport, and with wrestling’s uncertain Olympic future, he’s determined to be on the Canadian team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Wrestling will be a medal event in Rio, but the International Olympic Committee has voted to drop it as a core sport from the 2020 Games. Proponents of the sport are fighting to have it reinstated, but there’s an added degree of urgency for athletes as far as 2016 in concerned.

“Since you’re a kid, all you want to do is wrestle in the Olympics – it’s the biggest stage,” said Dhinsa, who is entering his third year of criminology studies at Simon Fraser University. “Everyone’s working hard for 2016. It’ll be one of the hardest Games to qualify for.”

Fellow Abbotsford wrestler Jasmit Phulka also participated at the Junior Worlds, and he lost his opening match in the 84 kg division to Levan Gogrichiani of Georgia.

Nishan Randhawa was part of the Canadian contingent at the Cadet World Championships in Zrenjanin, Serbia, and he too was eliminated in his first match. He fell 10-3 to Dmitri Ceacusta of Moldova in the 85 kg class.