Superstar Bajrang Punia rose to expectation to record a comprehensive 8-0 victory over World championships silver medallist Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan and claim a men’s freestyle 65kg bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
Bajrang, a three-time Worlds medallist and overwhelming favourite for a medal, gave a controlled performance to notch up his first medal on debut and elevate his status in Indian wrestling.
After Sushil Kumar, Bajrang is the first Indian wrestler to have won medals in both Olympics and the World championships.
This was the country’s second wrestling medal and sixth overall in Tokyo. He was the sixth Indian wrestler ever to claim an Olympic medal.
Indian wrestlers gathered two medals in an Olympics after the 2012 Olympics.
Bajrang, who had lost to Niyazbekov in the 2019 World championships semifinals in Nur-Sultan, returned to the mat with confidence. He was watchful even while attacking his opponent in the first period and opened his account by gaining a passivity point. Bajrang doubled it by driving Niyazbekov out of the circle.
The Indian returned after the break with a lot of determination and executed his game plan of attacking the Kazakh’s right leg well. After a few attempts, Bajrang finally managed to earn a two-pointer through his first takedown with less than 90 seconds left.
With his coach Shako Bentinidis shouting ‘only right side’ from his corner, Bajrang stuck to his task and made it 6-0 through a counter. He carried through his momentum to fetch two more points and defended his 8-0 lead confidently.
After his loss in the Olympics semifinals, it was a huge sigh of relief for Bajrang as well as the Indian coaching staff. Shako and chief coach Jagmender Singh celebrated by hugging each other.
On Friday, the second-ranked Bajrang, who injured his right knee during the Ali Aliyev memorial tournament in Russia in June, beat Asian bronze medallist Ernazar Akmataliev of Kyrgyzstan 3-3 (via criteria) and Morteza Ghiasi of Iran ‘by fall’ to enter the semifinals.
In the last-four contest, Bajrang lost to Rio Olympics bronze medallist and three-time World champion Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan 12-5 to make it to the repechage round.