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Asian Games 2018

Bajrang Punia’s gold shines amidst a listless Indian freestyle performance

Bajrang Punia’s gold shines amidst a listless Indian freestyle performance

Madhusudan Rangu

Published: 20 Aug 2018 3:45 AM GMT

Strong lungs, will power, and enormous wrestling skills were on ample display as the 24-year-old Bajrang Punia overpowered four stubborn opponents to claim India’s first gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games.

Apart from the initial part of his opener against the Uzbek all the way up to the first 90 seconds of the final against Takatani of Japan, the Indian looked a class apart. Single leg double leg tackles, gut wrenches, and the now famous rollovers also known as the ‘Feetla’ were on ample display as the Indian came like a fast moving tank on his bewildered opponents.

But the Japanese true to his skills let loose a series of single leg attacks that looks like mirror images of each other. The six-point lead for the Indian whittled away in no time as Bajrang struggled to come to terms with Takatani’s speed and lower center of gravity. Much to every Indian fans relief Bajrang managed to flip over Takatani to secure a two point lead which stayed with him till the very end.

Also Read: Like mentor, like protege: Bajrang Punia follows footsteps of Yogeshwar Dutt

Punia is in a rich vein of form since the Gold Coast Games, carrying it through the Tbilisi Grand Prix, Yasar Dogu and now Asian Games. This augurs really well for the upcoming World Championships which double up as an Olympic qualification tournament.

Rest struggle

The rest of the squad struggled with the high level of wrestling that the Iranians and former Soviet Bloc wrestlers brought to the mat.

Sandeep Tomar missed another opportunity to stamp his class in 57 kg category as minor concentration lapses has seen lose matches from winning positions. He had his Iranian opponent on the mat but ended up losing by a six point margin. Tomar has sharpened his attacking game but ends up conceding points in a bunch. His lack of titles since the 2016 Asian Championships is keeping the door open for Aware and Kale. The World Championship trials will be interesting to say the least.

Pawan Kumar never stood a chance against Yazdani, but his performance against an average Mongolian grappler leaves a lot to be desired. Somveer and Deepak Punia Sr are no better and this weight category is looking increasingly bare for India.

Mausam Khatri vanished from Asian Games within a blink of the eye against the Uzbek Ibragimov and probably needs to stick to dangals in Haryana or wherever. This is not really a surprise considering that an average South African had toyed with him at the Commonwealth Games.

More than anyone else, the Indian wrestling fan will be hurting with the first round loss of Sushil Kumar. Still to understand what happened against Baitrov, the veteran Indian seemed to lose his bearings after being docked a point for slapping his opponent. Probably he saw shades of Parveen Rana in Baitrov.

Also Read: Sushil Kumar knocked out in first round

Whatever it may be, its hard to see the 35-year-old Indian coming back from this setback in a fiercely contested weight category where lighting quick reflexes are as important as wrestling skills. Sushil has the latter but comes up woefully short on the former. What the trials for the Worlds bring out is anybody’s guess, but the sooner Sushil makes way for the younger brigade the better. His reputation is at stake if not already shattered.

Dwelling on the negatives today would be unfair to the herculean efforts of Bajrang Punia, but the Indian wrestling federation has some serious work on its hands as far as men's freestyle is concerned.
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