Bajrang Punia ended India’s gold medal drought on the penultimate day of the Asian Wrestling Championship, taming South Korea’s Seunghui Lee 6-2 in the men’s 65kg freestyle category at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex here on Saturday.
Bajrang, who has been mentored by Olympic bronze-medallist Yogeshwar Dutt, made a dramatic comeback in the second round of the contest to win the title. After trailing by two points in the opening three minutes, the Indian was more aggressive in the second round, unleashing counterattacks to which his rival had no response. Bajrang’s strategy paid off as he enhanced the lead from 3-2 to 5-2 when the bout was five minutes old.
Bajrang continued to dominate even as his opponent virtually gave up in the last 60 seconds of the contest. After the bout, Bajrang got a pat from Yogeshwar Dutt. Dutt said, “He (Bajrang) became more confident when his opponent went into defensive mood.”
Earlier, in the women’s 58kg category, Sarita Mann lost the opportunity to become the first Indian woman grappler to win gold in the Asian meet. She lost 0-6 to Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan to settle for silver. Though Sarita was unable to score a point in the title bout, she expressed satisfaction with her performance. “Reaching the final was a big achievement,” she said.
On the eve of the competition, Sarita had switched her weight category from 60kg to 58kg to make way for Rio Olympics bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik in the higher category. Shedding two kgs of weight in such a short period of time was perhaps the reason for her sub-par performance in the final.
Japan finished on top with 70 points, followed by India (62) and China (54), respectively. India’s medals tally in the men’s section has gone up to three (gold and two bronze), while in the women’s section it stands at four silver and two bronze.
Sunday is the final day of competition.