Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya qualify for Olympics
Following on from Vinesh Phogat's heroics to earn an Olympic place, two more Indian wrestlers booked their tickets for Tokyo 2020.
At the Barys Arena in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya made it to the semi-final stage of the competition in the freestyle 65kg and the 57kg categories respectively to seal a place at next year's Games.
However, Punia was left bitterly disappointed after loss to local hope Daulet Niyazbekov in his contest for a place in the final.
Having made it to the last-four without much trouble, world number one Punia had to rue his luck as one missed calculation cost him the tie and an opportunity to better his silver medal finish from the last edition.
Up against Niyazbekov, Punia started on the back foot as the Kazak inflicted a quick takedown to take the opening lead in the game.
That, however, didn’t last long as Punia returned the favour soon enough.
With the Indian keeping his opponent guessing with his movements - he shuffled between going linear and circular - Niyazbekov chose to wait for Punia to commit an error to pounce on. And Punia soon provided an opportunity.
Close to the perimeter, while Punia tried to turn and push Niyazbekov out, it was the Indian who landed on his back first, thus handing the Kazakh four points from the move. Though the Indian challenged the move, a failed attempt saw another point being added to his opponent’s kitty.
Trailing by five points, Punia was desperate to get back into the tie as he tried to force the issue against Niyazbekov. But one such attempt gave his opponent an opening to inflict a takedown and make it 9-2 with just over two minutes to go.
But that didn’t stop Punia as he valiantly rallied to draw level in the final seconds. But with the Kazakh scoring a four-pointer in the tie, he was awarded the win on criteria (one four point move).
However, 25-year-old Punia showed his class once he was on the mat as he barely took any time to have his opponents in difficult positions and score from smart takedowns.
Up against Poland’s Krzysztof Bienkowski in his opening round, Punia barely broke a sweat to wrap the tie 9-2. Though he was made to toil a bit harder against Slovenia’s David Habat in the second, Punia showed his class to eke out a 3-0 win to make it to the quarterfinals.
And the last-eight tie was all about Punia as Son Jong-Chol of North Korea barely came to terms with his opponent’s quality despite being ahead at the start. Punia won the tie 8-1 by getting the North Korean down time and again.
While Punia’s run to the semis was expected, debutant Ravi Dahiya going the distance to win a quota place for the country was a pleasant surprise.
In what was a minefield of a draw, the Indian began by blanking South Korea’s Kim Sunggwon 11-0 in the opener and then rallied from a six-point deficit to get past the reigning European champion, Arsen Harutyunyan of Armenia in an exciting 17-6 encounter.
In the quarters, Dahiya banked on his counter-attacking skills to get past the 2017 World champion, Yuki Takahashi of Japan 6-1 before bowing out to World No. 2 Zavur Uguev 4-6 in the semis bout. Both Punia and Dahiya will fight for a bronze medal in their respective categories on Friday.
Meanwhile, the day also saw Rio 2016 bronze medallist Sakshi Malik bow out of the Championships after her opening-round loss to the 2018 Commonwealth Games champion, Aminat Adeniyi of Nigeria in the 62kg category.
Divya Kakran was also among the casualties as she lost her first-round bout to Japan’s Sara Dosho. With both Adeniyi and Dosho losing their following ties, the Indians have been ruled out of the repechage rounds as well.