In the 125KG class, he’s now among the world’s top freestyle wrestlers, after placing fifth at last month’s Senior World Championships in Serbia and holding his own at the COVID-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics last year. Bouyed by recent international results on the mat, he plans to return to the Olympics two years from now.
With two 2022 gold medals in hand, Dhesi has “come home” to teach wrestling to the next generation of Surrey athletes.
“I moved back home last month, permanently,” he explained, “so my fall is about taking some time off and letting my body heal, because it’s been a busy year and busy summer. And now I’m just focusing on this club, trying to get our numbers back up and get it going again, trying to promote wrestling as much as I can.”
Upstairs at Newton Recreation Centre, Dhesi sat on a bench in the Randeep Sodhi Mat Room and reflected on his path from family-run wrestling clubs to Oregon State University to podiums around the world.
With a degree in sociology, he wants to be a police officer one day, to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Parm.
But right now wrestling is on his mind, and he doesn’t entirely like what he sees in Surrey, in terms of facilities.
“We don’t really have another city-operated wrestling facility in Surrey, other than this mat room (in Newton),” Dhesi elaborated. “Even that, we’ve been here for 15 years and they took away one of our time slots that we had on Saturdays.
“We’re trying to advocate for more facilities,” he added, “and I know that it comes down to participation. But from my point of view, how are we going to get more kids involved in wrestling if we have just the one facility provided by the city in all of Surrey?”
Run as a non-profit, not a business, Khalsa Wrestling Club was started in 1976 by Dhesi’s father, Balbir, who competed in India before immigrating to Canada. Proud Balbir, now 72, drops by the rec centre’s mat room when he can, to watch and visit Amar, Parm and fellow coaches Erfan Amiri (a champ from Iran) and Sukhan Chahal.
“We’re not about making a kid a world champ, but if that does happen, it’s a blessing,” Dhesi said. “Our motto is that not every kid will be an Olympic champ, but we can try our best to make the kid a good human being.”
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, a couple dozen young wrestlers eagerly said hello to Dhesi before climbing the stairs to learn wrestling holds from him and other coaches.
The day before, as a guest at Surrey City Hall, Dhesi was given a certificate of recognition during a council meeting, for his gold-medal performance at the Commonwealth Games in August.
“I’ve had three meetings with the mayor over the past couple of months,” he said, “just trying to get the word out there that wrestling has produced Olympians, world champs, Commonwealth Games champs, at the highest level.
“I grew up in Whalley, beside Gateway Station,” he continued. “I always say that I love Surrey, and I do, but we need to do a lot more for our next generation, and I advocate for wrestling because the sport has taken me to where I am today. I know there are other rec centres that have space available, and a mat room doesn’t take much to build.”
On Sept. 2 Dhesi turned 27, a “veteran” age in the world of freestyle wrestling.
A bio posted to the Canadian Olympic team website notes that before his Olympic dream became a reality, Dhesi endured three ACL tears in six years and underwent two reconstructive surgeries, which caused him to miss two seasons of competition for Oregon State University.
Last year, Dhesi’s Games experience in Tokyo is remembered for a 13th-place finish and strict COVID restrictions.
“It was my first Olympic Games so I don’t know otherwise,” he recalled. “We trained and weren’t allowed to leave the hotel, which was different, other than the bus to the training facility. For me personally it was pretty surreal being there, just seeing all the high-level athletes from all these other countries gathered there. The experience overall was good.”
Come 2024 in Paris, he’s aiming for the Games podium.
“I don’t want to just get back there and just be there, I want to go back to the Olympics and be on the podium, that’s my goal – hopefully at the top of the podium,” said Dhesi. “I’m more experienced now. We’ll see what the future holds.”