Bajrang, Sakshi and Deepak claim CWG wrestling gold

Published on Aug 06, 2022 12:11 AM IST
  • Anshu Malik took silver while Divya Kakran finished with a bronze at the Commonwealth Games wrestling in Birmingham.
Bajrang Punia(Team India Twitter)
Bajrang Punia(Team India Twitter)
ByRutvick Mehta, Birmingham

It was straight out of those classic sporting images. Anshu Malik down to her toes, face covered with her palm to the right of the referee. To the left, Odunayo Folasade Adekuoroye spreading her arms apart. One of them was the winner, and you could easily tell.

Breaking into tears as soon as the referee lifted the arms of the Nigerian already letting out her victory cry, Anshu walked off the mat and back into the players’ zone with face hidden under the Indian flag over her head. Not on her shoulders with her head held high, like she would have envisaged doing on a day she turned 21.

Instead, Anshu had lost the Commonwealth Games women’s freestyle 57kg wrestling final 7-3 on Friday in dramatic style. A silver was yet won, the youngster’s first at the CWG level and an addition to her ever-growing cabinet that promises more.

Minutes later on the same Coventry Arena Wrestling Mat B, a more seasoned grappler took the lead role in a less theatrical and more expected climax. Bajrang Punia jogged gently around the mat to bhangra music blasting across the arena and a group of Indian fans screaming “Bajrang, Bajrang” for the perfect complementary tune. The Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist had defeated Canada's Lachlan McNeil 9-2 in the men's 65kg final, his second straight CWG gold and third overall, after the win at 2018 Gold Coast and silver in 2014 Glasgow.

“After the Olympics it was a very difficult time for me with my knee injury. But I’m really happy with my performance here,” Bajrang said.

India kicked off their wrestling—a sport where India have traditionally bossed in this multi-sport event—along expected lines, with a clutch of medals.

Sakshi Malik too joined Bajrang in the gold list, overturning a tricky situation to pin Canada’s Ana Godinez Gonzales in the 62kg final. The 2016 Olympics bronze medallist, who has looked rejuvenated here, was trailing 4-0 at the break before levelling it and then bringing her first CWG gold home after a silver and bronze.

Deepak Punia made it gold No 3 for the day. He was in control of his 86kg final as he beat Muhammad Inam of Pakistan, winning on points (3-0). Divya Kakran finished with bronze in the 68kg category.

Clinical Bajrang

Bajrang, much like he was throughout the day in which he had two victories by fall and one by technical superiority against England's George Ramm in the semi-final, was largely clinical going for gold, other than conceding those two points.

He took a comfortable 4-0 lead, grabbing McNeil’s right leg high and turning him down to the mat for a couple of points. The Canadian cut the lead to 4-2 in the second period, but Bajrang’s tactics had his leg in the grasp. The composed Indian again got hold of a standing McNeil’s left leg to make his move for another two points and a 6-2 lead. There was no coming back for McNeil from here, and Bajrang knew it as he afforded a smile with seconds left on the clock.

Anshu, easing through her day’s previous two matches on technical superiority, wasn’t quite able to execute her moves in the final. “Pakad de, pakad de (grab it, grab it)” came the cry from her coach but Anshu couldn’t manoevre her way into the tall Nigerian’s leg defence. Adekuoroye could, and collected those points for a 6-1 lead. Anshu pulled two back, before a challenge from the Indians at the end was turned down for the scoreboard to be locked at 7-3.

“I’m very happy but there's an element of regret as I wasn't able to win gold for my country. But I will try my best next time,” Anshu said. “I've had a few injuries in the recent past but I left everything on the mat, everything I had.”

The colour of the medal may have been different, but would mean equally to Anshu and Bajrang.

Crowned the Asian champion last year, Anshu had dramatically lost to 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist Valeria Koblova in the repechage round in the Tokyo Olympics, a defeat she said taught her a lot. It showed in the World Championships in Oslo, where she bagged silver. Yet all through these ups and downs, injuries have been a nagging companion of the youngster.

Like it has been for Bajrang during and after Tokyo. The knee injury flared up again to deflate his confidence. After Tokyo, Bajrang competed in only two tournaments without winning either. He has in the third.

BOUTS DELAYED

Bajrang was in the mat nice and early to begin proceedings on Friday morning. A two-hour delay followed after five matches, due to the threat of a dangling speaker above the mats that required fixing, requiring irate fans to vacate the arena. The organisers attributed it to a “health and safety check” on the venue that just a day ago had been home to judo action. The wrestlers had to wait in the sidelines all the while, which Sakshi said worked to her advantage for it gave her more time to prepare and get battle-hardened.

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Monday, August 15, 2022
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