Astana: Hardeep sprang a surprise on Sunday by booking an Olympic quota place for India in Greco-Roman wrestling, which is not the country's forte, after finishing with a silver medal in the 98 kg category on the last day of the Asian Olympic Qualification championship in Astana.
This is the first time that an Indian Greco-Roman wrestler has secured an Olympic berth after 2004 Athens Games, when Mausam Khatri had made the cut.
In fact, in a heavy weight category, this is the first time that an Indian Greco-Roman grappler has ensured a place in the Games.
Overall, three Indian wrestlers have so far qualified for the Olympics – two (Yogeshwra Dutt and Narsingh Yadav) in men's freestyle and one in greco-roman.
Even before Hardeep clinched the silver, he had qualified for the Olympics by virtue of reaching the final. The top two finishers in each weight category here are assured of a Rio berth.
In the final bout, Hardeep lost on the account of injury default to his opponent Di Xiao of China, and had to be satisfied with a second-place finish.
On his way to final, Hardeep stunned everyone with the ease with which he overcame his rivals.
After thrashing Arslan Saparmammedov of Turkmenistan 11-0 in his quarterfinal bout, he outplayed Margulan Assembekov of Kazakhstan 11-2 in the semis to advance to the gold-medal round.
However, other Indians in the fray today – Vinesh Phogat (women's 48kg), Anita (women's 63kg), Somveer (men's 86kg freestyle), Hitender (men's 125kg freestyle) and Ravinder (Greco-Roman 66kg) failed to book Olympic berth. Even though three of them ended with a bronze medal each.
Out of the 17-member squad competing in this tournament, which concluded today, only two Indians could make the cut for Rio.
Besides Hardeep, another Indian in greco-roman fray on the day, Ravinder, bagged the bronze after defeating Didar Amannazarov of Turkmenistan 10-5 in the third-fourth place play-off.
He had earlier lost 1-11 to Omid Norouzi of Iran in his semifinal bout but had won in quarterfinal round against Roman Tsarev of Kyrgyzstan 2-1
In the women's category, Vinesh was one of the strong contenders in the squad but crumbled under pressure. She came up with a dominating performance in the quarterfinal round, outplaying Thai rival Wasana Junnoi by fall verdict 2-0, but ran out of steam against Kazakhstan's Zhuldyz Eshimova in the closely-fought semifinals, falling 4-5 to lose out on a chance to book an Olympic quota place.
However, Vinesh pulled up her socks during the bronze-medal playoff and overcame a challenge from Uzbekistan's Dauletbike Yakhshimuratova to finish on third position with a 10-0 effort.
Anita suffered the same fate in 63kg. After winning the quarterfinal against Seo Heejeong of Korea 4-2, she went down in the semis to Kazakh wrestler Yekaterina Larionova 2-8. But she managed to beat Nilufar Gadaeva of Uzbekistan 10-0 to settle for the bronze.
In men's freestyle, none of the two Indians competing on the day could even bag a bronze.
While Somveer lost to Kim Gwan-uk of Korea 0-10 in his bronze-medal bout, Hitender had crashed out of the competition in the early stages.
Somveer got the better of Shengfeng Bi of China by fall 8-2 in quarters, but was outplayed in the semis 0-10 by Mongolia's Uitumen Orgodol.
Hitender bowed out early after losing his quarterfinal bout to Aiaal Lazarev of Kyrgyzstan 0-5. He had earlier won the qualification round.