The Rome Ranking Series took a swift turn in India’s favour as wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Ravi Kumar Dhaiya bagged gold medals to kick-off the Olympic year in style on Saturday (January 18).
Punia was far from his fluent best but still claimed gold while Dahiya showed sparkling form in his yellow metal effort.
The 25-year-old Bajrang staged a comeback to secure a 4-3 win against USA’s Jordan Michael Oliver in the summit showdown of the 65kg freestyle category.
Ravi, who competed in the 61kg category instead of his regular 57kg, bagged the gold after getting the better of Kazakhstan’s Nurbolat Abdualiyev 12-2 in his final bout late on Saturday night.
The 23-year-old from Sonepat had made the final round after securing impressive wins over Moldova’s Alexandru Chirtoaca and Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev in the four-wrestler draw. India, thus, returned with seven medals from the tournament.
Vinesh Phogat and Anshu Malik winning gold and silver respectively in the women’s competition. In Greco-roman, Gurpreet Singh (82kg) won a gold, Sunil Kumar (97kg) a silver while Sajan Bhanwal (77kg) settled for a bronze.
Bajrang admitted that he was not at his best.
“Yes the bouts were close, it’s just first tournament of the season so I was a bit rusty. I had a feeling going into this tournament that the performance will be a bit up and down,” Bajrang told PTI.
“But having close bouts is not a worry, it’s good. It keeps me alert and gives ne chance to ponder over my shortcomings,” he said.
Bajrang’s personal coach Shako Bentinidis was not with him in Rome and that too affected the Indian wrestler.
“He had some visa issues, so he could not be with me. His absence also impacted my performance. I badly missed his guidance during the bouts,” he said.
Up against one of India’s biggest medal prospects in the Tokyo Olympics, Oliver conceded that it was not his night against Bajrang.
The American lauded the competitive spirit of Bajrang.
“Wasnt my night but I got a lot of work to do to be where I want to be! Hats off to @BajrangPunia dude is heck of a competitor! Until next time my friend,” the American tweeted.
Bajrang had to sweat it out in the first round against Zain Allen Retherford of the USA before prevailing 5-4.
In the quarterfinal, the ace Indian wrestler went past another American Joseph Christopher Mc Kenna 4-2, before getting the better of Vasyl Shuptar of Ukraine 6-4 in the semi-finals.
However, it was curtains for Jitender in the 74kg and world championship silver medallist Deepak Punia in the 86kg category.
Jitender won his first bout against Denys Pavlov of Ukraine 10-1 before going down in the quarterfinals against Turkey’s Soner Demirtas 4-0.
Jitender got a change to fight in the repechage after Demirtas entered the final, but the Indian wasted the opportunity, losing 2-9 to Daniyar Kaisanov of Kazakhstan.
In the 86kg category, Deepak crashed out in the opening round, losing 1-11 to Ethan Adrian Ramos of Puerto Rico.
Satyawart Kadiyan (97kg) and Sumit Malik (125kg) also failed to reach the medal rounds.