Bajrang Punia won India’s first gold medal at Asian Wrestling Championships. Competing in the 65 kg category freestyle it was the first medal for the 23-year-old grappler at the international stage. He defeated Seungchul Lee of Korea 6-2 to achieve this feat. Earlier in the day, Sarita competing in 58 kg Women’s category won silver for the nation.
In the final match, Bajrang started slow and gave away the first two points to his Korean opponent. The first round ended with him trailing. Nevertheless, he came out resilient in the second round being more aggressive than the former round. He gained his first point by pushing the Korean out of the mat, then took him down to take the lead. His attacks received no answers from the rival as he was not able to recover from there on. Bajrang pulled out another take down and took the score to 5-2 in his favour. The final score displayed 6-2 at the end of the rounds.
The overjoyed lad took a victory lap around the arena with the tricolour on his shoulder to celebrate his achievement. No other Indian was able to pull out a gold medal in this edition of the games. Bajrang recorded this emphatic win under the mentorship of the former Olympic bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt, who was watching his student perform from the sidelines.
“I asked him (Bajrang) to attack all the time and not to be defensive and that paid dividends. Winning a gold medal in the Asian Championship is a really big thing,” Dutt said.
Bajrang faced one of his toughest competition in the quarters when he went up against the defending champion Meisam Nassiri of Iran. He won the match 7-5 in a closely competed bout. He had also taken down Sirojiddin Hasanov of Uzbekistan 4-3 in the qualification round. He defeated the North Korean Kukgwang Kim 3-2 in the semifinals to enter the gold medal bout.
“My strength is my stamina and I played accordingly. I was told by my coaches and mentor to attack more and I followed the strategies well to come out as a winner,” said Bajrang, “A gold is a gold and it cannot be compared to either silver or bronze. This is my first gold medal in a major international tournament and very happy to have achieved it,” he added.
Indian women wrestlers pulled off their best performance so far in the Asian championships totalling 6 medals with 4 silver and 2 bronze. Sarita competing in the 58 kg category after Sakshi Malik moved to 60 kg category was defeated in her gold medal bout against Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan 0-6. It was visibly a one-sided affair with Sarita lacking behind her opponent. Her earlier bouts in the competition were very impressive. She defeated Uzbekistan’s Asem Seydametova 10-0 in the quarters and Thi Huong Dao of Vietnam 12-0 in the semis.
“Coming down two kilograms is not a big deal. It is natural for us to jump up and down 2-3 kilograms and right now my original weight is 58kg, so I was comfortable fighting in this category. I want to continue the good show and prepare to qualify for the World Championship in August,” said Sarita.
In Men’s 97 kg class Satywart Kadian went down 2-2 in the qualification round against Magomed Ibragimov of Uzbekistan. He received a lifeline in the form of the repechage round before going down against the Mongolian Batzul Ulziisaikhan 5-8. In 74 kg, Jitender lost his quarterfinal bout to Tsubasa Asai of Japan. Sandeep Tomar unfortunately suffered from a knee injury while competing in the 57 kg class.
India finished second in the women’s category lagging just behind Japan and leading ahead of China. It was one of the greatest displays from the Indian women at the Asian stage. Their next goal would be the World Championships later this year.