India end World Championships with best-ever medal haul

Deepak Punia pulled out of the 86kg freestyle final due to an injury while Rahul Aware clinched a bronze.

By Naveen Peter

It was a bittersweet moment for the Indian contingent on the final day of the 2019 World Wrestling Championships as India saw one of its upcoming stars, Deepak Punia, pull out of his final bout while Rahul Aware went on to clinch a bronze in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan on Sunday.

Punia, who was to wrestle with one of Iran’s finest grapplers Hassan Yazdani in the final of the 86kg freestyle category, withdrew from the gold medal bout just hours before taking to the mat citing an ankle injury he suffered during his semifinal bout on Saturday.

The 20-year-old made his way to the mat limping and with a swollen right eye after a hard-fought bout against Stefan Reichmuth of Switzerland. But despite the withdrawal, the youngster will return home from his debut Championships with a silver medal and a quota place at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Aware adds another medal

The disappointment surrounding Punia’s pullout didn’t last long as Rahul Aware ensured that India managed its best-ever medal haul at the World Championships with his bronze medal-winning performance in the 61kg category, a non-Olympic event.

Up against Tyler Graff of the USA, the 27-year-old Indian gave away two points in the opening minutes but was quick to get back swiftly and went on to build his game and outplay his opponent at will.

Comeback master

Enjoying a slender 4-2 lead at the break, Aware was in his element in the final three minutes as he barely gave Graff any room to find an opening while inflicting enough damage to sail ahead and clinch the tie.

The opening minutes saw Aware go for the American’s legs, but the second round was all about body attacks as Graff fell prey to the Indian’s constant attempts at managing a gut wrench. A takedown was followed by exposure and then a rollover as Aware all but sealed the tie with over a minute to go. 

With his coach advising him to contain the lead, Aware did exactly what was asked of him as the 2017 Pan-American champion found it difficult to get the Indian down on the mat despite his repeated attempts on the legs. 

Aware’s win meant India signed off a successful World Championship with five medals - a silver and four bronze - and four Olympic quotas for Tokyo 2020. 

This has been the Indians’ best-ever show at the world meet. Their previous best was in 2013 when they managed three medals - Amit Dahiya (silver), Bajrang Punia (bronze) and Sandeep Tulsi Yadav (bronze).