A dominating Bajrang Punia opened India’s gold medal account at the 2018 Asian Games, bringing smiles and relief to the Indian camp which was jolted by the early exit of star wrestler Sushil Kumar today
An in-form Bajrang won his maiden Asian Games gold in the 65kg category but a ‘rusty’ Sushil lost his last chance to add an Asiad gold to his collection of medals after losing his qualification bout 3-5 to Bahrain’s
Adam Batirov in the 74kg category. Bajrang came into the Games after winning three tournaments — Commonwealth Games, Tbilisi Grand Prix and Yasar Dogu International — and carried on with his superlative show here. Such was his domination that the 24-year-old from Haryana won all his bouts, until the final, by technical superiority.
He outclassed Uzbekistan’s Sirojiddin Khasanov (13-3), Tajikistan’s Fayziev Abdulqosim (12-2) and Mongolia’s N Batmagnai Batchuluu (10-0) to storm into the gold medal bout.
Bajrang Punia dedicates his medal to Late PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee
In the final, he was tested by Japan’s Takatani Daichi but Bajrang held his nerves to prevail 11-8 in an exciting battle. He raced to a 6-0 lead but the Japanese kept at it and put Bajrang under immense pressure. Bajrang emulated his mentor Yogeshwar Dutt, who won gold in the last edition and is now one of the few Asiad gold medal winners in wrestling.
Kartar Singh (1978, 1986), Satpal Singh (1982), Rajinder Singh (1978), Changdi Ram (1970) and Maruti Mane (1962) are among Asiad gold winners from India. A lot was expected from all five wrestlers in action but Sandeep Tomar (57kg), Mausam Khatri (97kg) and Pawan Kumar (86kg) faded out early. Pawan got a chance to redeem his campaign but lost his repechage round by technical superiority (0-11) to local boy Fahriansyah.
The biggest blow though came when two-time Olympic medallist Sushil, who was exempted from Asiad trails, lost tamely. Sushil, winner of a bronze at the 2006 Doha edition, was competing at the Games after skipping the last two editions. The Indian led 2-1 after the first period with a takedown but the Bahraini made a strong comeback to silence the Indian fans.