Bajrang Punia a step away from World Championships gold
India’s top billing at the World Championship, Bajran Punia is just a step away from becoming India’s second gold medalist as he knocked off Alejandro Valdes Tobier of Cuba 4-3 to enter the 65 kg Freestyle final on the second day of the World Wrestling Championships at the Papp László Sportaréna in Budapest on Sunday night.
In a close bout, the Indian staved off a late threat from his Cuban rival who narrowed down the lead from 4-1 to 4-3 before the 2013 Budapest bronze medal winner emerged as a deserving winner to prove the Hungarian capital to be a happy hunting ground for him.
India has a lone gold medal in world wrestling when Sushil Kumar won it in Moscow in 2010. And on Moday Punia could add his name to the elite list when he takes on Takuto Otoguro from Japan in final of the World Cadet Champion.
In the other semifinal, the Japanese beat Akhmed Chakaev of Russia 15-10. The favourite Russian en route to his semifinals had sent two world champions packing earlier in the day.
“I am much relieved after two close bouts. I knew he is a good wrestler but he was very desperate in the second period. He attacked unexpectedly which helped him gain two points in the last minute,” said Punia, speaking from Budapest.
“When opponent is down, he normally goes all out attack in the last minute. I was trying to defend my lead but I need to be careful about this in the final. I have lost crucial points in the last couple of bouts in dying seconds and can’t repeat the same,” added Punia.
Asked if he had time to watch the Japanese in action, Punia said: “I watched a bit of it after my match. He was overpowering against his Russian rival. I will watch his video and plan how to tackle him along with my coaching staff,” added Punia.
The first period of the semifinal was not as tense as one expected it to be, particularly in the light of his bronze medal winning performance from Paris world championships last year. But the Indian was too good with his defense and attacked the Cuban’s leg. On the first takedown he opened the account with two points but conceded one for the step out to his opponent.
But, summoning his experience and with a wonderful performance from Asian Games to back, Punia added two more points for the take down to lead 4-1 at the end of the first period.
The first three minutes of the second period proved to be very defensive as the Cuban ably avoided the Indian but in the last minute attacked well and earned two points for the take down and another for the step out by the Indian. But with a strong defence the Indian ensured that he did not relax yet again and give away unnecessary points with 20-odd seconds to spend on the mat.
Punia said he would definitely go for the gold tomorrow, saying, “I want to win gold like Sushil (Kumar). I want to do it for my country and I need all the countrymen’s blessings,” he added.
Earlier, in a thrilling quarterfinal, the Indian held upper hand until the last minute, leading 4-1. But Punia conceded to his Mongolian opponent, Tulga Tumur Ochir, three crucial points before wrapping up the match with a score line of 5-3.
Meanwhile, Sonba Tanaji Gongane lost his repechage bout to Mongolian Tuvshintulga Tumenbileg 7-0.