Wrestler Bajrang gives India their first gold

Wrestler Bajrang gives India their first gold

Bajrang, who came into the Asian Games as favourite to win the gold in this category, beat his Japanese opponent 11-8 in the final bout. PTI Photo

He was the favourite and he fought very much like one — with skill, with tact and with all his will. And ultimately, it was that determination that made all the difference on the day for Bajrang Punia.

India’s contender in the 65kg class of Asian Games wrestling, Bajrang faced an almighty challenge from Japan’s Daichi Takatani in the final. Takatani had answers to almost every question that Bajrang posed while the Indian seemed to struggle at times to tackle his rival’s moves.

In a no-holds-barred contest that went to the wire, Bajrang eventually prevailed 11-8, surviving a challenge raised by the Japanese in the final second to hoist India’s first gold medal of these Games. It was his first Asian Games gold too, with a silver in the 61kg category in Incheon 2014 his previous best effort.

“It is wrestling, you have to fight hard to succeed, nothing comes easy,” said Bajrang, bruised but happy that he had vindicated the faith shown by his mentor Yogeshwar Dutt, the winner of this category at Incheon. 

On a day when all the other four Indian wrestlers — including Sushil Kumar — fell short, all eyes were on Bajrang. After a slow start, the Commonwealth Games champion was in devastating form in the early rounds. He trailed 0-3 against Uzbekistan’s Sirojiddin Khasanov before surging to a 13-3 win, underlining his technical superiority.

The same story was repeated in the next two rounds, against Abdulqosim Fayziev of Tajikistan in the quarterfinals and Batchuluun of Mongolia in the semifinals. Fayziev was beaten 12-2 while Batchuluun was outclassed, with a 10-0 score again netting Bajrang a win by technical superiority.

Fighting aggressively, Bajrang quickly took a 6-0 lead in the final but he was caught unawares when Takatani went for his leg twice in succession, taking down the Indian. Bajrang led 6-4 at the end of the first period but the Japanese drew level soon after restart. Bajrang’s defence came to the fore in these tricky situations as he held on, thwarting the Japanese from taking complete control.

Then came the crucial moment when the Indian turned the tables on Takatani, going for his leg and earning two points with a take down. Fighting tooth and nail, the Japanese came back and with seconds left, it was 10-8 in favour of the Indian. Japanese challenged it but the call went India’s way, with the final score reading 11-8.

Tension was high in the stands but Bajrang said he was cool. “Ups and downs happen in wrestling, I just focused on the task on hand,” he said.

Of the other Indians, Sandeep Tomar bowed to Reza Atrinagharchi of Iran and in the 57kg and  Mausam Khatri lost to Magomed Ibragimov of Uzbekistan in the 96kg class quarterfinals. Pawan Kumar came through the repechage rounds but lost the bronze medal bout against Uitumen Orgodol of Mongolia in the 86kg class.