Wrestling ace Bajrang Punia helped India cap off a fine outing at the season’s first ranking event — the Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Rome.
Competing in the 65kg freestyle category, the Indian grappler beat USA’s Jordan Oliver 4-3 in the final to win the gold medal. Earlier, Ravi Dahiya too ended up with the yellow metal following his dominant show in the 61kg freestyle category.
With just four wrestlers listed in the division, the winner was decided following a round-robin format that saw every grappler face the other once. The bronze medallist at the 2019 World Championships, Dahiya, began his campaign with a 16-4 win over
Alexandru Chirtoacă of Moldova and then went on to beat 2019 World Championships bronze medallist, Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev, 6-0.
In his final bout, the Indian barely let Nurbolat Abdualiyev, also from Kazakhstan, have his way as he recorded a dominant 12-2 win to claim the top prize.
Punia prevails in cagey affair
Meanwhile, the final of the 65kg freestyle category was a cagey affair.
Having been on the receiving end of the Bajrang Punia’s last-minute flourish at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov wrestling meet in Bulgaria last year — a bout where Oliver led 3-0 before Punia replied with 13 unanswered points to win the gold — the American was cautious with his moves in the initial minutes.
Pouncing on the rare openings that Punia allowed, Oliver went on to lead 3-0, but the American was aware that the bout was far from over.
In his attempts to build on the lead, Oliver attacked Punia’s straying leg, but the Indian flipped the attack in his favour to push the American out of bounds and earn his first point in the final.
While another push outside the territory made it 2-3, Punia soon produced a fine flip over his shoulders to expose Oliver on to the mat and take a 4-3 lead in the bout.
Later, while the two were locked in a close tussle, nothing seemed to interest the scorers as Punia held on to the slender lead to win his first gold medal in the Olympic year.
India return with six medals
Punia’s win on the final day meant India will return home with six medals from the season’s first ranking competition.
While on the first day, Sunil Kumar opened the account for India with a silver medal in the 87kg Greco-Roman category, Anshu Malik added another silver with her impressive run in the 57kg women’s wrestling.
India’s first gold came from Vinesh Phogat in the 53kg category while Gurpreet Singh added to the golden glow with his title-winning run in the 82kg Greco-Roman division before Punia and Dahiya added two more golds on the final day.