Updated: August 8, 2021 7:55:03 am
Bajrang Punia defeated Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov to take bronze in the men’s freestyle 65kg category, bringing the seventh wrestling medal for India at the Olympics.
Saturday’s bout was a grudge match with a medal on the line. It was at the hands of Niyazbekov that Bajrang’s run at the 2019 World Championship came to an end in a controversial semifinal. Competing in front of his home crowd, the Kazakh repeatedly pushed his fingers into Bajrang’s face and grabbed his singlet. Though he was cautioned and fouled by the referee, the mat chairman disagreed and refused to give any point to the Indian.
On that night in Nur-Sultan, trailing 7-2 and with the clock ticking down, Bajrang put pressure and levelled the bout at 9-9, losing on a technicality.
The 27-year-old Indian had avenged that defeat at the Ali Aliev tournament in June right before the Olympics. But with high stakes and the disappointment of Friday’s semifinal defeat perhaps still on his mind, it wasn’t going to be straightforward.
The 32-year-old three-time Asian Champion and two-time Worlds medallist is a wily operator. He was coming into the play-off with a win by technical superiority in the repechage round. The bronze-medal bout was off to a cagey start. Bajrang took the mat with his right knee unstrapped, removing a giant target for his opponent and dissuading any injury speculation.
During his three bouts on Friday, Bajrang had seemed apprehensive in putting his knee on the mat in search of takedowns. After he scored a point due to Niyazbekov’s passivity in the first period on Saturday, Bajrang went for a takedown. He was put in a headlock for his effort, but the Indian first got free with clever defence, and then sent his opponent out of bounds to make it 2-0.
Like in 2019, the Kazakh held on to Bajrang’s singlet, but the Indian changed direction, rotating and turning the Kazakh out of bounds. The bout was effectively won there.
In the second period, it was a Bajrang show. Three cleverly-executed, quick two-pointers as Bajrang went for the right leg of his opponent, who kept looking for a counter which never came. The Indian was relentless and at one point, leading 8-0 and mounted on his opponent’s back, he chose not to advance and go for a technical superiority win. The clock ran out with 8-0 on the scorecard. Bajrang was the superior wrestler, no technicalities needed this time
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