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Bajrang Punia Faces Defeat: Uncovering the Ups and Downs of Asian Games Wrestling

6 October 2023

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Following an absence of a year, Bajrang Punia returned to competitive wrestling. Under pressure, he was defeated 1-8 by Iran's Rahman Amouzadkhalili in the semifinals, but he and fellow countryman Aman Sehrawat, who's performance was noteworthy regardless of losing in the last four at the Asian Games, were still in the running for a bronze medal.

Bajrang, who spent a significant portion of this year criticising WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, started with two straightforward victories but looked lost facing the powerful Iranian. Bajrang received harsh criticism for skipping the Asian Games selection trials. Vishal Kaliraman topped the trials, although he was only given a standby spot in the men's 65kg division.

Four of the five Indians competing fell at the last-four stage, including Sonam Malik (65 kg) and Kiran (76 kg), who both lost their corresponding semifinal matches in the women's category and were eliminated from contention for the gold medal. Sonam and Kiran had relatively easy going early on, but when they ran against stronger opponents in the semifinals, they were severely exposed.

Bajrang's nerves would have been calmed by seeing Ronil Tubog as an easy opponent for his first match, and he started with a four-pointer to get things started. The Filipino wrestler appeared overpowered and was unable to move at all as Bajrang sprinted to an 8-0 lead in the opening frame. One takedown manoeuvre was all it took for the champion-in-residence Bajrang to stop the fight due to technical dominance.

Alibeg Alibegov, who came after him, was supposed to put up a big battle, but Bajrang wasn't at all bothered by the Bahrain wrestler. The Indian won 4-0 thanks to strong defensive play. The 2022 world champion and current Asian champion beat Bajrang, who faced his biggest test of the day, 8-1 on the mat after shocking the Indian with a four-pointer to start the match.

After taking hold of Bajrang's right leg, the Iranian hoisted him and nearly rolled him. The four-pointer had frightened Bajrang, but the Iranian remained resolute in his defence of his lead until the first period's conclusion. At the beginning of the second period, Amouzadkhalili made another four-pointer to increase his advantage. Bajrang made two leg attacks out of desperation and confusion, but the Iranian resisted and refused to give up. After a while, Bajrang managed to score one point, but the Iranian just won the fight.

Aman defeated Korea's Kim Sunggwon with a score of 6-1 to go to the quarterfinals of the men's 57kg competition.

Aman found himself down 1-8 against Iran's Ebrahim Mahdi Khari, the silver medalist from the U20 Asian Championships, but the Chhatrasal stadium trainee somehow came back to win by technical superiority. Aman scored 18 points in a row while using all of his muscle and skill to confuse the young Iranian.

Aman used a right-leg attack and tried to roll Khari in an effort to pin him as the score stood at 3-8 into the second session. The Iranian managed to avoid that attack, but Aman continued to advance with each subsequent strike. However, he ran across Toshihiro Hasegawa of Japan, who quickly took a 6-1 lead. Aman appeared to be causing a shift once more as he cut the gap to one point by scoring four straight points. Two wrestlers executed attacking moves in a high-scoring contest that ultimately saw the Japanese win 12-10.

Sonam defeated Sushila Chand of Nepal and Noeurn Soeurn of Cambodia in her first two rounds, winning both of them by technical superiority in less than a minute, without having to exert any effort. Hyongyong Mun of North Korea had her pinned, and the Indian was unable to score a single point against her. She is now competing with Jia Long from China.

In the 11-wrestler women's 76kg division, Kiran had a bye in the first round before defeating Nodoka Yamomoto of Japan 3-0 in the round of eight to go to the semifinals. She was pinned by Zhamila Bakbergenova of Kazakhstan in the following round. She will then square off against Ariunjargal Ganbat of Mongolia.

The sole Indian wrestler in competition on Friday, Radhika (68 kg), was unable to advance to the final round.




 

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