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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Gold still a step too far for Bajrang Punia

Bajrang Punia lost his semifinal bout against home wrestler Daulet Niyazbekov under controversial circumstances after sealing his Tokyo Olympics quota.

other-sports Updated: Sep 19, 2019 23:35 IST
Avishek Roy
Avishek Roy
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India's Bajrang Punia in action against Slovenia's David Habat.
India's Bajrang Punia in action against Slovenia's David Habat.(PTI)

Bajrang Punia was cruising through his bouts until he ran into home favourite Daulet Niyazbekov in the semi-finals at the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on Thursday. Bajrang lost the high-scoring controversial contest and was visibly disappointed with the result. However, Bajrang had done enough to achieve his first target, a 2020 Tokyo Olympics berth, when he entered the semi-finals.

Ravi Dahiya (57kg) gave a gritty display and also booked a Tokyo Olympics berth for the country before losing 4-6 to reigning world champion Zaur Uguev of Russia. India have so far bagged three Tokyo Olympics berths from the world meet. Both Bajrang and Ravi will fight for the bronze medal on Friday.

World No 1 and top seed Bajrang saw off Krzysztof Bienkowski of Poland 9-2 in the first round. He did not have to expend much energy against David Habat of Slovenia, moving to the quarter-finals with a 3-0 verdict. Next up was Jong Chol Son of North Korea, who was dispatched 8-1.

Till then, Bajrang looked like he was on a mission to bring home gold and complete his set of three, alongside his 2013 bronze and 2018 silver. Bajrang’s nemesis and defending champion Japanese Takuto Otoguro, who beat him in the final last year, was also out of his way, losing to Russian Gadzhimurad Rashidov in the quarters.

But all that changed dramatically in a high-intensity thriller against Niyazbekov in six minutes. It all came down to one big move in the second period that saw Niyazbekov being given four points for a throw on the edge of the mat. Bajrang’s challenge was not upheld and he conceded one more point, which gave a decisive 7-2 advantage to the Kazakh wrestler from a 2-2 deadlock.

Niyazbekov pushed Bajrang to the edge of the mat following a head lock but it was the Indian who seemed to be in control of the move. In fact, the judge had held up four points for Bajrang but the referee overturned the decision in Niyazbekov’s favour.

“That was interesting. The judge ended up giving 4 (points to) red (Bajrang) but they must have gone by the 4 of the referee to the blue,” said the commentator.

“It was Punia’s move but he landed on his back and often they might call it 4 and 2,” said another commentator. But it was Niyazbekov who got five points.

Bajrang, known for his fight-backs, got ready to give it his all from there on. Niyazbekov consolidated with two more points to make it 9-2. Bajrang managed well to escape from Niyazbekov’s tight leg lock without further damage.

The Indian then pushed Niyazbekov out of bound for two points and added two more with a takedown. Throughout the bout, Bajrang kept complaining about Niyazbekov’s rough tactics and trying to have a go at his face. It was only toward the end that Niyazbekov’s was given a caution and one point was given to Bajrang, which brought the equation down to 9-7 with the final few seconds ticking away. Bajrang had another go at Niyazbekov’s legs with 19 seconds left, which levelled the scores.

Bajrang had a firm wrench hold but time ran out. Niyazbekov rescued himself from Bajrang’s tight clutches, raised his arms and ran off the mat in celebration. The Indian stood on the mat looking dejected. Niyazbekov had won the tied contest “on account of making the biggest move in the match”—the controversial four-pointer.

“The Kazakh with the biggest move in the match which ironically might have been a controversial call toward the edge of the mat, the challenge went his way and he gets four – that’s the first tie breaker criteria,” said the commentator.

Bajrang’s mentor Yogeshwar Dutt, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist, did not mince words in criticising the refereeing. “Whoever watched the semi-final between Bajrang and Niyaz can make out the difference between right and wrong, then how come the umpires sitting there could not see. Such a big mistake in such a big tournament,” Dutt wrote on twitter.

Earlier, Ravi Dahiya played his heart out to seal a Tokyo Olympics berth for India in the 57kg. He defeated Korea’s Kim Sunggwon 11-0 in the first round and then overturned a six-point deficit to defeat Arsen Harutunyan, the European champion from Armenia, 17-6. In the quarter-finals, Ravi got the better of Yuki Takahashi of Japan (6-1).

Pooja loses

Pooja Dhanda failed to win her second successive Worlds bronze as she went down 3-5 to Xingru Pei of China in 59kg category. There was more bad news when Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik crashed out in her opening round, losing 7-10 to Nigeria’s Aminat Adeniyi. In 68kg, Divya Kakran lost to reigning Olympic champion Sara Dosho of Japan 0-2.