NEW DELHI (May 13) - Host nation India finally got the gold medal it desperately desired and Bajrang BAJRANG (IND) added to the excitement by staging his third comeback victory of Day Four of the Asian Senior Championships to bag the 65kg freestyle title.
Bajrang trailed 0-2 in the second period of the final against LEE Seungchul (KOR), but anyone who saw the way he stormed back from similar deficits during the morning session knew not to count him out.
And as if part of his magic act, Bajrang suddenly made points appear on his side of the scoreboard, until at the end he had a 6-2 victory to the delight of the partisan crowd at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex wrestling stadium.
The key for Bajrang, as it had been in earlier comeback wins over defending champion Meisam NASIRI (IRI) and KIM Kukgwang (PRK), was not so much beating his opponents with technique as it was just wearing them down.
"My strength has always been my stamina," Bajrang told the adoring Indian media. "I’ve been working on that for the last couple of months."
In the second period, Bajrang scored first with a step-out, then went ahead with a takedown at the 4:25 mark. He fought off all of Lee’s attacks by being constantly in motion. His final points came on a fingers penalty with 30 seconds left, then a point after the challenge from the Korean corner was rejected.
"Winning gold at the Asian Championships is a very big thing for me. I won silver (in 2014) and I won bronze (in 2013), but gold has its own shine," the newly minted champion beamed.
Uzbekistan, the only country that advanced two wrestlers into the four freestyle finals, came out with a pair of golds from 2014 world bronze medalist Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB) at 74kg and Rio 2016 bronze medalist Magomed IBRAGIMOV (UZB) at 97kg.
Abdurakhmonov, who scored two points on each side of the break when his opponent was on the activity clock, chalked up two takedowns in the second period to clinch a 6-0 win over Muslim EVLAEV (KGZ) for the welterweight crown.
"I felt good, but I could do a little better, I could score more points," said Abdurakhmonov, who wrestled collegiately in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. "But before the final match, with my coaches, we had a tactic on how to wrestle this guy, and I stuck to it. So, overall it was good."
Ibragimov scored a takedown 40 seconds into the second period and held on for 6-4 win over world and Asian junior champion Hossein SHAHBAZIGAZVAR (IRI). Ibragimov had earlier fallen behind on tie-breaking criteria with the score 4-4.
At 57kg, Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) gave Japan its first Asian freestyle gold since 2010 by outclassing Zanabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL), 7-1, with his last three points coming on step-outs to clinch the match.
"It was the first time in a while for me to make a final, so I was nervous," said Takahashi, who placed third at the 2016 Golden Grand Prix Final. "But I wrestled my way and put pressure on him. I stayed on the offensive."
Asked how confident he was coming into the tournament, Takahashi replied: "In terms of percentages, about 60%. There was a little uncertainty."
Prior to Takahashi, the last Japanese to win a gold medal in freestyle was Shinichi Yumoto in the 55kg division at the 2010 Asian championships, also held in New Delhi. Yumoto later went on to win a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The final women’s division of the championships, 58kg, was the only category out of eight without a Japanese in the final, and defending champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) filled the void by sweeping past Sarita SARITA (IND), 6-0.
The 24-year-old Tynybekova, who has entered the Asian Championships every year since 2010, won a bronze in 2013 and silvers in 2014 and 2015 before striking gold last year in Bangkok. She said that winning amid the heat of Thailand made her ready for India.
"I prepared for this competition completely," Tynybekova said. "I knew it would not be as hot as it was in Thailand. It was very hot (there), but I could to win the gold medal. This time it was not so hot, so I knew that I would win the gold."
Against an inspired Sarita, Tynykova broke a scoreless deadlock with a takedown to a roll in the final 30 seconds of the first period for a 4-0 lead. She added a takedown in the second period as Sarita was urged on by the vocal home crowd, which Tynybekova said she blocked out.
"I knew it would be a very hard final because it was being held in India," she said. "I could hear with one ear just my coach’s words, and with the other one, just the referee’s."
Katsuki SAKAGAMI (JPN), relegated to the bronze medal match after losing a close 6-4 decision to Tynybekova in the semifinals, overwhelmed Gulshaharat TALASSOVA (KAZ) by 10-0 technical fall (3:33) to assure that Japan secured a medal in every women’s category.
Japan, which captured all five women’s golds on Day Three, won the women’s team title with 76 points. India was second with 62, followed by China with 54.
In the other women’s bronze medal match, Vietnam joined the medal table when DAO Thi Huong (VIE) forged a solid 7-0 decision over Asem SEYDAMETOVA (UZB).
In freestyle, the three Iranians who failed to make their respective finals - Reza ATRINAGHARCHI (57kg) and Bahman TEYMOURI (74kg) in addition to Nasiri at 65kg -- all came away with bronze medals.
57kg (15 entries)
Gold - Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) df. Zanabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL), 7-1
Bronze - Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) df. Ulukbek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ), 7-2
Bronze - Reza ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI) df. KIM Sunggwon (KOR), 5-4
65kg (12 entries)
Gold - Bajrang BAJRANG (IND) df. LEE Seungchul (KOR), 6-2
Bronze - Masakazu KAMOI (JPN) df. Chamara WEERASINGHEGE (SRI), by TF, 10-0, 4:04
Bronze - Meisam NASIRI (IRI) df. KIM Kukgwang (PRK), 7-2
74kg (12 entries)
Gold - Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB) df. Muslim EVLAEV (KGZ), 6-0
Bronze - ZHANG Chongyao (CHN) df. Panadurage FERNANDO (SRI) by Fall, 0:34 (4-0)
Bronze - Bahman TEYMOURI (IRI) df. Tsubasa ARAI (JPN) by TF, 10-0, 4:05
97kg (12 entries)
Gold - Magomed IBRAGIMOV (UZB) df. Hossein SHAHBAZIGAZVAR (IRI), 6-4
Bronze - Magomed MUSAEV (KGZ) df. ULZIISAIKHAN Batzul (MGL), 7-2
Bronze - SEO Minwon (KOR) df. Naoya AKAGUMA (JPN), 4-3
58kg (10 entries)
Gold - Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) df. Sarita SARITA (IND), 6-0
Bronze - DAO Thi Huong (VIE) df. Asem SEYDAMETOVA (UZB), 7-0
Bronze - Katsuki SAKAGAMI (JPN) df. Gulshaharat TALASSOVA (KAZ) by TF, 10-0, 3:33