The entire coaching panel of the Indian team was out near mat B ahead of the final clash between Amit Dhankhar and Mongolias Mandakhnaran Ganzorig. The colour of the medal was to decide where India would finish in the overall standings of the freestyle discipline on the top rung or one place below.
As sparring partner to double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar alongside Pradeep,Dhankhar has always played second fiddle. And probably for this reason,the coaching staff were not keen on playing up his chances in the tournament. They had more expectations from Praveen Rana (74kg) and Narsingh Yadav (84kg),who both moved up a category.
But when the duo failed to make the podium,it was down to Dhankhars fighting abilities to do the unthinkable – to beat the more experienced and super-fit Ganzorig,who among other things had won the 2010 Asian Games gold in 60kg,and with it bag an unprecedented top spot for India. In contrast to the Mongolian,Dhankhar had only won gold in the Commonwealth Championships (2007,2009 and 2011). What made the situation more intense was a delay in starting the bout,which was the last-scheduled for the day. For over ten minutes,he was made to wait as Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and his party colleague and MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh broke into impromptu speeches.
Dhankhar was on the backfoot after the first period,going down 1-0,when the action finally began. But turned the tables in the second as he carved up a 4-0 advantage that started with forcing the Mongol out of the mat. The third period was much more evenly contested. After bagging a point,Dhankhar conceded a caution point for failure to heed to referees warnings against slapping Ganzorig. Had the score remained 1-1,it would have been all over for Dhankhar. With seconds ticking past,Dhankhar finally edged ahead 2-1 as he threw his opponent down on the mat and then,with his last attack of the match,made it 3-2 to end a memorable day.
I was not warmed up enough in the first period,but once there I could make the difference. I am very happy that I did not disappoint the crowd that had come here to support me, he said after the final.
Incredibly,in each of his earlier victories,the 24-year-old had been trailing or was on the brink of elimination before turning the tables and advancing. In his opening bout he trailed Chinas Jianfu Zhang 0-1 and 0-1 in two periods before winning the tie 1-1 and 1-0. Against Krygystans Ulukman Mamatov in the quarterfinals,his chances were no better. He lost the first period 1-0 before winning the next two 1-0 and 2-0. But his most serious threat came in the semifinals against Uzbekistans Ruslan Pliev,who had bagged the first period 1-0 and was leading 4-0 in the second,when the Indian began his fightback. Dhankhar muscled Pliev out of the mat thrice and bagged the last point with seconds to go. In the third it was all Dhankhar,who benefited from the fact that the Pliev begun to suffer from a shoulder injury. After easily taking the Uzbek out thrice,he had raced to a 4-0 lead before his opponent conceded the bout.
While Dhankhar saved the day for the hosts,those who were touted for podium finishes,including Rana and Yadav,failed to make the desired impact. Rana fell at the quarterfinal stage against Irans Akiri Zatolah 2-0 and 2-1. Yadav led Anini Ehsan in both the periods before losing 1-1 and 5-3. The other Indian in the fray,Parvesh (96kg),was beaten by Chinas Xueyi Zhang.
Dhankhars gold medal propelled India to 48 points,three more than Iran and eight clear of Mongolia,and won them the overall trophy of the best freestyle nation in Asia,for the first time ever.