Wrestling: Unheralded Pritam hopes to end India's medal drought in 74 kg category
- Pritam won his first national title in a weight division that was dominated by double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and also drew attention due to controversies
Railways wrestler Pritam trumped Delhi youngster Yash, a 2021 junior world championships bronze medallist, to win the 74kg title at the senior wrestling nationals here on Saturday. It was Pritam’s first crown in his fourth appearance at the nationals, which came after he switched from the 79kg class.
The 74kg in Indian wrestling has been a coveted category, double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar having owned it since his Commonwealth Games gold in 2014. However, the unsavoury incidents involving Kumar and Narsingh Yadav in the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics and the brawl between the supporters of Kumar and Parveen Rana after the latter lost the Commonwealth Games trial to him in 2017 have meant the 74kg competitions have always drawn extra attention.
The emergence of Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya in lighter categories have further taken the sheen off 74 kg, but crucially, India's performances in this category have been poor for over five years now. Pritam is confident of setting the record straight.
“I am elated. This is my first nationals gold and it gives me the ticket to next month's Commonwealth championships in South Africa. I want to perform well there to be in the fray for next year's Commonwealth Games and Asiad. I know India have been waiting for a medal in 74kg for a while and I am confident to end that wait," he said after easing to a 11-0 win in the final.
Pritam, the 79kg silver medallist in the last edition, was on a hot streak through the day, beating two opponents ‘by fall’ and two others on ‘technical superiority’ with 11-0 margins.
“I knew the entire focus would be on experienced wrestlers such as Narsingh Yadav and Amit Dhankar and I was happy to go about my business quietly. I have beaten Dhankar, so I was confident of beating him too, had we met,” Pritam added.
In his final against Yash, the 25-year-old jumped to a 2-0 lead with a single-leg takedown early. By the end of the first period, he had extended the lead to 5-0. Yash tried to go on the offence in the next period, but clearly lacked strength and nous against his much-experienced competitor. Pritam put the contest to bed with three consecutive two-point throws, completing a 11-0 win.
Narsingh, Amit roll back years
For a few moments in his 74kg bout against Amit Dhankar, Narsingh Yadav appeared to be heading for a dream return to nationals glory. Problem was, the six-minute slugfest that many at the venue believed was deserving of a final was in fact just a quarter-final that sucked every ounce of endurance from the Maharashtra wrestler.
Dhankar, a seasoned campaigner, proved a match for Yadav. The two grapplers with a combined age of 66 rolled back the years to provide an exhibition of classic attacking ground wrestling.
Yadav went on the offence in the first minute itself, but Dhankar got the first points with a two-point throw. Yadav responded by swooping down on Dhankar’s ankle to draw parity. At the end of the first period, Yadav led 4-2 after a particularly impressive feint. By now though his body lathered in sweat and breathing heavily, Yadav's 4-2 lead—it became 6-2 at the start of the second period—was in danger.
As Yadav's defence began to crumble, Dhankar went on a four-point spree to make it 6-6 before a failed review by his corner earned Yadav a crucial win.
However, by the time he took the mat for his semi-final against Yash, Yadav was spent. His only chance was to open a big early lead, but his younger and faster opponent looked it no real trouble. Never once could Yadav lead by more than one point, and once Yash effected a two-point throw to overturn a 3-4 deficit, the writing was on the wall. The bout stopped at 7-4, Yadav's dreams of a fairytale return dashed.
Bajrang Punia, who had opted out of the nationals, was there cheering for sparring partner Jitender (Railways) in the 79kg final. However, young Gaurav Baliyan trumped Jitender to win gold. The 57 kg class was won by Aman (Haryana), 65 kg by Rohit (Services), 92 kg by Viky (Services) and 125 kg by Shivraj (Maharashtra).