A day after they were assured of a quota place at the Tokyo Olympics, India’s Bajrang Punia (65kg) and Ravi Kumar (57kg) clinched bronze medals in their respective weight categories at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
Punia was on top of his game as he reserved his best for the last to rally from a four-point deficit to beat Mongolia's Tulga Tumur Ochir 8-7 while Kumar beat Iran’s Reza Atrinagharchi 6-3.
The last time Punia faced Ochir was at the 2018 Worlds.
One year ago, riding on his fearsome form, the Indian brushed aside the challenge to win 3-1 - en route his silver medal performance in Budapest, Hungary.
This time though, the Mongolian was better prepared. He began by pushing Punia close to the edge of the perimeter before turning him over for a takedown to eke ahead.
Though the Indian tried to force his way through, Ochir wasn’t having any as the two were led in a headlock for a while midway through the opening round, before the Mongolian flipped Punia down with a chest throw to add four more points his name. His follow-through, however, allowed Punia to register his first points for exposure as the two went into the break with Ochir leading 6-2.
Punia, however, didn’t let the scoreline disturb him, as the man known for his undying stamina came back in the second round to score the bulk of his points and take home the bronze.
The world number one started with a powerful takedown, then exposed Ochir’s back and rolled him over to earn six points from a single move to wrap up the tie.
Star in the making
While Punia left it late, Kumar seemed to be in a hurry against the Asian champion in the 57kg category, Atrinagharchi. But the Iranian was smart enough to not let his opponent rule the mat.
While it started as a cagey affair, Kumar was quick to alter his tactics as he chose to bank on his counterattacks - something that has worked wonders for him - rather than initiate the attacks on the day.
And with Atrinagharchi put on the clock for his passive move, the opportunity arrived soon for the Indian to turn a single-leg attack by his opponent into an opportunity as he twisted himself to inflict a takedown to open his account.
While the Iranian tried his best to break the Indian’s resolve, he couldn’t get past the headlock as the two went to the break with Kumar leading 2-0.
Though Atrinagharchi began by pocketing his first point on restart, Kumar inflicted two more takedowns to win his maiden bronze at the World Championships.
Sushil fails to impress
Earlier, India’s two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar bowed out of the 74kg category in the opening round.
Up against Khadzhimurad Gadzhiyev of Azerbaijan in the qualification round, the Indian wrestler was taken by surprise in the second round of the bout as his opponent went for his right leg time and again to earn six unanswered points to rally from a five-point deficit and register an 11-9 win.
And with Gadzhiyev losing to the world number two Jordan Burroughs of the USA in the quarterfinals, Sushil's chances of having a crack at the Olympic quota too came to an end.
The day also saw the 2018 Commonwealth Games champion Sumit Malik (125kg), Karan (70kg) and Praveen (92kg) bow out of the competition after their disappointing losses in the opening rounds.