India’s star wrestler Bajrang Punia has won the gold medal at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov tournament in Ruse, Bulgaria and dedicated the victory to Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Punia, a World Championship silver medallist, overpowered Jordan Oliver of USA 12-3 in the men’s 65kg freestyle final to begin the season on a resounding note in the Bulgarian city.
However, Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat lost her women’s 53kg final to China’s Qianyu Pang 2-9 to settle for a silver on her debut in the United World Wrestling ranking series, which is also her first tournament since moving from the 50kg category.
Down 0-3 before scoring 12 straight points, Punia also secured the maximum ranking points from the tournament. “I want to dedicate my gold to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He has inspired me. I want to meet him one day and also shake hands with him,” Punia tweeted after his victory.
The IAF pilot Varthaman returned to India from captivity in Pakistan on Friday night after a suspenseful wait lasting hours, which is being seen as a major step towards defusing a near-war situation triggered by India’s retaliation following the Pulwama terror attack on February 14.
Punia, who bagged the top prize at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games last year, has won four gold medals and one silver in the last five tournaments. This was Punia’s 10th medal in as many international tournaments since failing to finish at the podium in the 2017 World Championships in Paris.
Earlier, Pooja Dhanda claimed the gold in 59 kg while Sakshi Malik won silver in 65 kg women’s freestyle. In the men’s freestyle events, Sandeep Tomar had to be content with a silver in 61kg.
Vinesh beat World Championships silver medallist Sarah Hildebrandt in the semifinals on Saturday. Vinesh was a far cry form the impressive self she was on Saturday.
“I have to work on my upper body because my opponents are strong. I took part in this event as I need to know my opponents,” Vinesh told the United World Wrestling official website after her semifinal win.
Earlier, Sarita Mor won a silver in women’s 59kg though she lost to her compatriot Dhanda.