Bajrang Punia won the first gold medal for India at the Asian Wrestling Championship by defeating Lee Seungchul of South Korea in the final of the men’s 65 kilogram Freestyle division here on Saturday.
Bajrang staged a superb comeback after conceeding the lead to dominate the second and final round and script a comprehensive 6-2 win.
Sarita added more cheer for the sizeable home crowd at the KD Jadhav Wrestling Stadium as she took silver in the women’s 58 kilogram category earlier in the day.
Sarita lost 0-6 to Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan in the final.
Sarita’s performance added to the best ever showing by Indian women wrestlers at the continental showpiece event as they finished with four silver and two bronze medals.
Bajrang’s performance was the only bright spot in an other wise disappointing performance by the Indian wrestlers in the freestyle events so far.
Lee took the lead in the fast paced opening period when he took two points with a takedown. That prompted the Indian to go on the offensive and he almost forced a takedown but the hooter announcing the ned of the round saved Lee.
The Indian dominated the second round right from the start. He took his first point with a push out before taking the lead by earning two more points with a takedown.
The Haryana grappler continued with his fast, aggressive style forcing the jaded looking Korean to continously defend himself from conceeding more points.
Bajrang produced another takedown with around 30 seconds remaining prompting the judges to award him two more points. But the Korean coach decided to appeal against the decision with a counter appeal coming in from the Indian coaches.
After studying the television replays, the judges decided to award three points to the Indian. That forced the Korean to go on the attack in the last 30 seconds in a desperate attempt to avoid defeat.
But Bajrang held on comfortably to ensure victory.
Earlier, Bajrang knocked out defending champion Meisam Nasiri of Iran in a hard-fought quarter-final contest.
Bajrang, who was trailing 1-3 at one point, staged a superb comeback by scoring six consecutive points late in the second period to script a thrilling 7-5 vicotry.
Bajrang, who had taken silver at the 2014 edition in the 61 kilogram Freestyle category, was involved in another thrilling contest when he met Kim Kukgwang of North Korea in the semi-finals.
Kim had taken a 2-0 lead, but Bajrang fought back to level the scores before clinching a point in the final seconds for a 3-2 win.
Bajrang had faced some tough opposition in his first bout as well, when he edgedout Sirojiddin Hasanov of Uzbekistan by a 4-3 margin.
“The tournament has been running for the last 2-3 days but we did not get a gold. I wanted to win the gold and there was a lot of expectation from me as well,” Bajrang told the media after the win.
“The coaches had worked hard before this tournament and they expected me to win gold. They had told me that I could win gold if I gave my best efforts,” he added.
“There was lot of pressure on me. We are playing at home and although it does put pressure, we also got a lot of help due to our home conditions. I want all four Indian wrestlers who are competing tomorrow to win gold medals.”
The 23-year-old from Jhajjar district of Haryana thanked his coaches Jagminder Singh and Sujit Mann along with his mentor 2012 Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt for their guidance and support. Dutt was present in the Indian technical area during the final.
“He (Yogeshwar) has always supported me. He is with me during most of my bouts. He is an Olympic medallist and can easily spot out my flaws. That helps me a lot.
“My coaches Dronacharya Award winner Jagminderji and Arjuna Award recipient Mannji are always with me during the day and we spend the entire day in training. Both of them have played at the Olympics and have a lot of experience which helps me a lot,” Bajrang said.
Earlier, Sarita had to be satisfied with the silver following a 0-6 reverse at the hands of Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan.
It was a creditable performance from Sarita considering the fact as she had to reduce weight at short notice and climb down to a lower weight category.
She was originally due to compete at her susal 60 kilogram category but the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) decided to filed Sakshi Malik in that division since the Rio Olympics silver medallist was found to be overweight for the 58 kilogram category.
Sarita was faster off the blocks and was the more aggressive wrestler in the early stages. She almost opened the scoring in the first minute but the Kyrgyz showed excellent technique to wriggle out.
Aisuluu weathered the initial wave of aggression from Sarita and took four points with a takedown followed by a fitley move.
The second period was a more sedate affair with Aisuluu increasing her lead by two points with another takedown.
“I had taken silver in the previous Asian Championship as well, so I wanted to produce a better performance.
“I was totally mentally prepared for this bout. I wanted to give my 100 percent and win the gold medal,” Sarita said later.
But there was disappointment for Indian fans in the other men’s Freestyle categories on the fourth day of the competition as Sandeep Tomar (57kg), Jitender (74kg) and Satywart Kadian KADIAN (97kg) crashed out of their respective weight categories.
Tomar, who had taken gold at last year’s edition, saw his title defence end at the first hurdle when he lost 5-6 to Ulukbek Zholdoshbekov of Kyrgyzstan in the qualification round.
Ulukbek scored the winning points in the final seconds of the bout by yanking in Tomar’s knee off a single-leg attack and sending him on to his back. Tomar limped off the mat with what seemed to be an injury.