Jakarta: A dominating Bajrang Punia opened India’s gold medal account at the Asian Games, bringing smiles and relief to the Indian camp, which was jolted by the early exit of star wrestler Sushil Kumar here.
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, till 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.
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.
“I dedicate this gold medal to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who passed away recently,” Bajrang said after the final bout.
“Yogi bhai (Olympic medallist Yogeshwar Dutt) told me ‘I did it in 2014, you have to do it in 2018.’ When he (Yogeshwar) won, it was huge gap in his and the previous Asiad medal. I wanted to continue with medal,” he added.
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 wreslters in action yesterday 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 take down, but the Bahraini made a strong comeback to silence the Indian fans.
Sushil himself was surprised with his defeat. “I did not expect this. I did not have any big competition under my belt and that was the main reason for my defeat. But it’s part of sport. I will train harder and come back,” said Sushil.
“I was not passive. I tried. It was just that there was not much time between CWG and Asian Games, so I could not compete at bigger and better events to prepare.”
The London Olympics silver medallist created two opportunities to score in the second period but could not convert them, while Batirov did not miss his chances.
He led 3-2 with a take down and then pushed the Indian out for a win. For Sushil to remain in the medal contention, Batirov needed to make the final.
But the Bahraini lost his quarterfinal bout 2-8 to Japan’s Yuhi Fujinami, resulting to Sushil’s exit. Sandeep Tomar, who was the last wrestler to book a berth for the Games through trials, showed immense promise before crashing out in the quarterfinals.
He won his second round 12-8 against Turkmenistan’s Rustem Nazarov but was outwitted 9-15 by Iran’s Reza Atrinagharchi. Tomar put up a brave fight and was locked 6-6 with his tactically superior Iranian rival.
In the second period, though, Reza just ran away with the bout with his big-scoring moves. The Iranian later lost his semifinal bout, which resulted to Tomar crashing out.
Khatri was outplayed 0-8 in the 97kg by Uzbekistan’s Magomed Ibragimo. Khatri remained passive throughout the bout and never made any attacking move.
In the 86kg, Pawan Kumar made a rousing start by blanking Heng Vuthy of Cambodia 8-0 but later lost to reigning world champion Hassan Yazdani Charati of Iran by Technical Superiority. Yazdabi is the gold medallist at Rio Olympics, apart from winning three World Cup gold medals.