Bajrang Punia, who entered the Asian Games after escaping the selection trials, suffered embarrassing defeats to make a medal-less exit from Hangzhou even as three other Indian wrestlers, including the talented Aman Sehrawat, won bronze medals on Friday. An under-prepared Bajrang, who spent a major part of this year protesting against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, began with two easy wins but appeared clueless against the formidable Iranian Rahman Amouzadkhalili and Japan’s Kaiki Yamaguchi.(Asian Games 2023 Medals Tally | Asian Games 2023 Full Schedule)
Vishal Kaliraman had won the Asian Games trials but the IOA ad-hoc panel, led by Bhupender Singh Bajwa, had handed Bajrang a direct entry, a decision which invited criticism from the wrestling fraternity.
Sending defending champion Bajrang, someone who was terribly short of competition time this year, in the tough men’s 65kg competition proved to be a mistake by the Bajwa-led panel.
Even Vinesh Phogat, a leading face of the wrestlers’ protest, was spared from the trials but, as luck would have it, she suffered an injury and Antim Pangal got to compete and made an impression by winning a bronze medal in Hangzhou.
Bajrang was routed 1-8 by Iran’s Amouzadkhalili in the semifinals after he beat weak opponents in the Philippines’ Ronil Tubog (8-1) and Bahrain’s Alibeg Alibegov (4-0).
Seeing an easy rival in his opening bout would have eased Bajrang’s nerves and he began with a four-pointer to go on board. The Philippines wrestler looked too overwhelmed, and could not make a single move while Bajrang raced to an 8-0 lead in the first period.
It was a matter of one take-down move, and defending champion Bajrang found that soon to finish the bout by technical superiority.
Next up for him was Alibegov, who was expected to put up a good fight but Bajrang was hardly troubled by the Bahrain wrestler. The Indian showed good defence to walk out a 4-0 winner.
Taking the mat for his toughest test of the day, Bajrang was thrashed 8-1 by Amouzadkhalili, the 2022 world champion and reigning Asian champion, who stunned the Indian with a four-pointer at the start of the bout.
The Iranian lifted and almost rolled Bajrang over after getting hold of his right leg. The four-pointer rattled Bajrang, while the Iranian stayed solid to defend his lead till the end of the first period.
Amouzadkhalili effected one more four-pointer at the start of the second period to double his lead. A desperate but flummoxed Bajrang tried two leg attacks but the Iranian defended well.
Eventually, Bajrang earned one point but the Iranian just ran away with the bout.
In the bronze play-off, Bajrang could not make a single attacking move and lost his bout by technical superiority.
The Japanese was quick with his single leg attacks that he kept converting into points. He led 4-0 at the end of the first period and continued in the same fashion in the second, controlling the bout in a splendid manner.
Sonam Malik (65kg) and Kiran (76kg) also lost their respective semifinals in the women’s competition to go out of the gold medal race as four of the five Indians in action fell at the last-four stage.
In the men’s 57kg competition, Aman moved into the quarterfinals with an easy 6-1 win over Korea’s Kim Sunggwon.
Up against Iran’s Ebrahim Mahdi Khari, who is the U20 Asian Championships silver medallist, Aman found himself trailing 1-8 in quick time but the Chhatrasal Stadium trainee turned it around in a sensational manner to win by technical superiority.
Aman reeled off 18 straight points, putting to work his immense strength and technical prowess to bamboozle the young Iranian.
Going into the second period 3-8, Aman employed a right-leg attack and tried to roll Khari, attempting a pin. The Iranian survived that move but there was no stopping Aman after that as he pulled away with one move after another.
However, he bumped into Japan’s Toshihiro Hasegawa, who raced to a 6-1 lead. It looked like Aman would effect a turnaround yet again as he reduced the deficit by taking four straight points.
It turned into a high-scoring bout with the two wrestlers pulling off attacking moves, but eventually, the Japanese prevailed 12-10.
In the bronze medal bout, Aman did not give his Chinese rival Minghu Liu any chance and closed it with a dominating technical superiority victory.
In the women’s competition, Sonam Malik (62kg) and Kiran Bishnoi (76kg) did not have to do much in the initial easy rounds but were exposed terribly when they faced better rivals in the semifinals.
Sonam did not have to break a sweat in her first two rounds in which she outclassed Nepal’s Sushila Chand and Cambodia’s Noeurn Soeurn, winning both the bouts by technical superiority in less than a minute.
Sonam was pinned by North Korea’s Hyongyong Mun, and the Indian could not score a single point against her.
She prevailed 7-5 against China’s Jia Long in a tight contest to take the bronze.
In the 11-wrestler women’s 76kg category, Kiran got a bye in her opening round and got the better of Japan’s young wrestler Nodoka Yamomoto 3-0 in the last-eight clash, to sail into the semifinals.
In the next round, she was pinned by Kazakhstan’s Zhamila Bakbergenova.
However, she redeemed herself by winning the bronze play-off 6-3 against Mongolia’s Ariunjargal Ganbat.
Radhika (68kg) was the only Indian wrestler in action on Friday who could not reach the medal round.
India have won five bronze medals so far in wrestling in this edition. Four more wrestlers will be in action on Saturday.
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