Asian Games 2018: Vinesh Phogat justifies billing as India's best by clinching gold; men's kabaddi team suffer shock loss

Vinesh Phogat cast a fleeting but longing glance at the gold medal that she had dream of, worked hard for and was now the proud owner of. For just that moment, it appeared as if she as all by herself, enveloping herself in a private moment, one of solitude, one of quiet pleasure, one of happiness. She stood as India’s first woman wrestling champion in the Asian Games.

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat celebrates her gold medal victory. AP

Wrestler Vinesh Phogat celebrates her gold medal victory. AP

Suffice to say, she deserved it and much more.

First up, she beat the Chinese Sun Yanan 6-2, exorcising memories of the injury that she suffered in the bout with her in the Rio Olympic Games; once that was out of the way, she breezed to one-sided victories over Korea’s Kim Hyung Joo and Uzbekistan’s Dauletbike Yakshimuratova in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

She then justified her billing as India’s best bet among the women freestylers with a 6-2 victory over Yuki Irie (Japan) in the final, emerging as the nation’s first Asian Games women’s wrestling champion. She showcased both her attacking and defending skills as well as determination and mental strength.

On a day when the unthinkable happened and India lost an Asian Games men’s kabaddi match to Korea, Vinesh Phogat’s efforts through the day, culminating on top of the podium, came as a soothing balm. Of course, until that moment, India had to rest content with silver medals for 10m air rifle shooter Deepak Kumar and 19-year-old trap shooter Lakshay Sheoran.

There was disappointment for other women wrestlers, notably Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik (67kg) and Pooja Dhanda (53kg) who had made it to the semifinals but lost their bronze medal bouts. Sakshi will rue the fact that her desire to increase the lead resulted in her conceding crucial points with moments left for her semifinal win to be wrapped up.

There was heartbreak for India’s premier trap shooter, Manavjit Singh Sandhu. Having led the qualifications, he had to settle for fourth place in the final, letting the younger marksman, Lakshay Sheoran stake claim to being the flagbearer of India’s rich legacy in the event. Lakshay's silver medal made 1978 Asian Games gold medallist Raja Randhir Singh’s heart swell with pride.

Deepak Kumar’s silver in the 10m air rifle event – one in which India has boasted of fielding shooters like Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang in earlier editions – was remarkable for the manner in which he bounced back from three 9s in the first series in the final. He held his nerve under pressure and found the high 10s to climb up to the silver medal spot.

There was disappointment on the badminton court, too. The women’s team lost 1-3 to Japan and the men’s side went down to Indonesia by a similar margin. It was PV Sindhu and HS Prannoy who provided the bright spots, the former beating World No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi and the latter dug deep to score a three-game win against Jonatan Christie.

If there was some shock for India, it came through the men’s kabaddi team’s one-point loss to Korea. The defeat will rankle and those who have complained about the team selection will wear a we-told-you-so attitude, at least until the team enters the final and wins the gold medal again. Of course, Korea has beaten India before but not in an Asian Games match.

Having endured three defeats in the preliminary league, the men’s handball team tasted victory with a 45-19 defeat of Malaysia in a Group 3 league game. This five-team group will determine the placings from ninth to 13th slots. The Asian Handball Confederation had declared that the Indian men’s team was ranked seventh in the continent and ensured its smooth entry to the Games.

In other team sport, the men’s hockey side started its defence of the Asian Games gold with a 17-0 rout of the home side and the men’s volleyball squad beat Hong Kong China in straight sets. There was also a seventh-place finish in the final for the Indian 4x200m freestyle swimming team.

The men’s gymnastics team finished with 229.950 points, a bare 0.350 points less than Iran, the final qualifier. It drew some solace from the fact that Yogeshwar Singh secured a reserve’s spot in the vault final, but it would know that barring the showing by him and Ashish Kumar in this apparatus, it had little to write home about.

The women’s Pomase team Taekwondo was scored 7.380, the least awarded to any team in the competition. But such performances get drowned in the din caused even by a clutch of rowers making it to the medal rounds as Dushyant in the men’s lightweight singles sculls and the quadruple sculls team did in Palembang.

Of course, there was positive news coming from the shooting ranges in Palembang while four of the five Indian wrestlers in action in the Assembly Hall in the Jakarta Convention Centre, including Sumit in the men’s freestyle 125kg class, raised hopes of swelling India’s collection of medals. Yet, it was only Vinesh who delivered the promised metal.

This was not the moment to recall the painful exit from the Olympic Games two years ago, stretchered away from the 48kg class match after a knee injury during her bout with China’s Sun Yanan. Nor was it the moment to cast the mind to the future, to the 2020 Olympic Games two years later. It was about savouring her tryst with the Asian Games gold medal.

If India are not to remain stuck with the images of Vinesh's victory and the gentle flow of emotions that she had so carefully wrapped up for a day, the task of increasing India’s gold medal tally will be the responsibility of the shooters – specifically Sanjeev Rajput in the 50m rifle 3-positions, the 10m air pistol exponents Abhishek Verma and Saurabh Chaudhary.

Of course, the return of vault specialist Dipa Karmakar to the big stage and the recurve men and women archers’ showing in the ranking rounds will also hold much interest on Tuesday.


Updated Date: Aug 20, 2018 22:34 PM

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