Ravi Dahiya's physical prowess and superior tactical acumen was on show yet again as he became the first Indian wrestler to win three gold medals at the Asian Championship but Bajrang Punia struggled badly on his return to action even as he grabbed a silver on Saturday. Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Ravi was his usual dominant self in his three bouts as he outclassed the 57kg field to emerge champion.
Gourav Balian (79kg) was impressive in his silver-winning effort while Naveen (70kg), making his senior debut and the seasoned Satywart Kadiyan (97kg), bagged bronze medals as all five Indians in action earned podium finishes.
The 24-year-old Ravi Dahiya conceded early lead in all his bouts, but he bounced back in tremendous fashion to give India its first gold medal of this edition. He won the final against Kazakhstan's Rakhat Kalzhan by technical superiority. It was his second final of the season, having won a silver at the Dan Kolov event in February.
Ravi, who hails from Nahri village in Sonepat, outsmarted Japan's Rikuto Arai (VSU) and pulled off a comprehensive 12-5 win over Mongolia's Zanabazar Zandanbud en route to the final. In the title clash, Kalzhan moved ahead with a take-down and for considerable time did not let the Indian make any move. However, true to his style, Ravi began to dominate the bout with his unmatched class. He effected six consecutive two-pointers and in-between saved himself from a left-leg attack to finish the bout early in the second period to secure India's first gold medal of the tournament this year.
Before the final, the Japanese was quick with his moves and initially troubled Ravi with his double-leg attacks which even took the Indian off his feet but once the Haryana wrestler got the measure of his rival, he dictated the terms in the bout. Ravi not only found a way to block Arai's attack but also got himself into position to initiate take-down moves from both sides as the Japanese did not have a plan 'B' to counter the in-form Indian. Ravi kept consolidating his lead and eventually won by technical superiority.
In the semifinal against Zandanbud, Ravi fell behind 0-4 after the home wrestler effected a take-down move and followed that up with a gut-wrench but Ravi again was quick in finding a way to thwart his rival. In no time, he effected five back-to-back two-pointers to pull ahead and easily reached the final. Ravi had won gold at the 2020 edition in Delhi and in Almaty last year.
Bajrang Punia, competing in his first tournament since winning a bronze at the Tokyo Games, looked like a pale shadow of himself. Hardly any attacking move was seen from him as he was engaged in standing wrestling, largely defending. Even against the easiest of rivals -- Abbos Rakhmonov (UZB) and Haji Mohamad Ali (BRN) -- Bajrang's aggression was nowhere to be seen. Had it been a tough field, he would have struggled even more.
In the final against Rahman Mousa Amouzadkhalili, the reigning junior champion from Iran, Bajrang was so passive that he was put on the clock. The Iranian kept Bajrang's upper body in his hold along with the left wrist, straight-jacketing him. Rahman earned two points with a right leg attack while lack of action from Bajrang meant that the final was a drab affair. It was Bajrang's eighth medal at the Asian Championship.
However, Gourav (79kg) set the mat on fire with his gritty performance, including in the final against a formidable Ali Bakhtiar Savadkouhi from Iran. He lost the final on criteria after the score was tied 9-9 (Iranian had a high-scoring 4-point move) to settle for silver but won hearts with his fearless approach. At one time he was trailing 0-8 but turned the bout around in the second period, going for his attacks. The Iranian, who was tiring towards the end, also lost two caution points for poking the Indian. Gourav had overpowered Turkmenistan's Gurbanmyrat Ovezberdiyev in super quick time, finishing the quarterfinal in just 28 seconds with five consecutive gut-wrench after getting hold of his opponent.
His semifinal was a tough contest with Kyrgyzstan's Arsalan Budazhapov fighting tooth and nail. In the fast-paced contest, in which counter-attacks from both the wrestlers made it an engrossing bout, Gourav was trailing 4-5 and just 14 seconds to go, he found a match-changing take-down move to make it 6-5 and eventually won 8-5.
India have now won 15 medals, including one gold and four silver medals, in the continental championship.