New Delhi: It came as a bolt from the blue — the jailbreak and the jubilation. Divya Kakran let out a series of guttural roars after escaping disaster at the hands of Japan's Naruha Matsuyuki to earn India's first gold medal in freestyle event at the ongoing Asian Wrestling Championships here on Thursday.
Divya's win made her only the second Indian woman, after Navjot Kaur (65kg), to win an Asian Championship gold. Kaur achieved the feat in 2018 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Divya, a 2018 Asian Games bronze medallist, was in top form on Thursday, going past challengers from Kazhakstan (6-0), Mongolia (11-2), Uzbekistan (8-0), and eventually Japan (6-4). Each of her wins was claimed by fall — including a 27-second blink-and-miss thrashing of Uzbekistan's Azoda Esbergenova.
"I am really happy with the result. I would like to thank the entire country for supporting me. The final was a close bout but I scrapped through," a beaming Divya said.
Matsuyuki, a junior world champion, trailed 0-4 for the better part of the bout — but then, out of the blue, Divya's attacking move went wrong and she came inches short of being pinned. Matsuyuki collected four points and looked destined to complete a stunning turnaround.
Vladimir Mestvirishvili, the long-serving coach from Georgia and a veteran in the field who has mentored two-time Olympic medallist, Sushil Kumar, had advised Divya to play safe and maintain distance from the opponent if she had secured a comfortable lead. The 22-year-old, however, went on the offensive, and nearly paid for the misadventure.
"I thought I could execute a throw, that's the reason I went for the attack. But a lot of times, things change drastically from the winning position, and the same happened with me. I was leading 4-0, but was really badly stuck there. I just thought I had to come out of this mess somehow. I don't know how I managed it, but I applied my opponent's move on herself," she said.
As a sudden hush fell on the arena, Divya, incredibly, found enough power to wriggle out of Matsuyuki's grasp and proceeded to turn the tables on her opponent. Once safe, a relentless Divya went for the kill, this time with the single-leg hold - a move she is yet to perfect. She, nevertheless, managed to pull it off and eventually pinned the opponent before running into Mestvirishvili's arms even as the partisan home crowd brought the house down at the KD Jadhav Wrestling Hall.
"After the bout, the coach asked me why did I continue to push, and all I could say was sorry," she said with a sheepish grin.
Divya's ceaseless aggression — where she implemented a combination of single and double leg holds and Iranian techniques instead of relying solely on her tested kalajung — was not as ill-planned as it appeared. Prior to Thursday, the Indian and Matsuyuki had met twice before, with both winning a bout apiece.
Divya defeated the Japanese by fall en route her gold at the Asian Cadet Championships in 2015 but the latter had her revenge two years later at the U-23 World Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Then, Matsuyuki went on to claim the silver while Divya had to contend with a fifth-place finish.
"My coach and elder brother had watched Matsuyuki's bout before, and it was my brother who asked me to go on non-stop attack," she revealed.
The absence of Chinese wrestlers meant Divya fought in a reduced field. It also meant she had to fight four bouts in two hours, testing her strength, endurance, and recovery.
"I was really tired, but recovered well for bouts. I was losing weight too, but the time I had spent on my strength and endurance paid off."
Coach Mestvirishvili was impressed too. "It was a good bout. She showed good technique and strength, and I think she can achieve much more. It was also complete teamwork between Divya, her coaches, and the physios to keep her in fighting condition," he told Firstpost.
The bouts were held in round-robin format as only five wrestlers participated in the 68kg class. The format puts a premium on the points won, a factor that played on Divya's mind.
"I knew I had to secure as many wins by fall as possible. In the gold medal match also, I knew I had to win either by a big margin, or through fall, because the Japanse wrestler was coming off a hot streak," she said.
The win means Divya has sealed her berth for next month's Asian Olympic Qualifiers, and she intends to secure the Olympic quota with a gold medal.
"I wanted to try some new attacking techniques here, such as the leg holds, and I am very happy I could pull them off. I used the double leg hold in all my bouts, and never once relied on kalajung. I thought if I have to make a mistake, it is better to do it here than at Olympic qualifiers." Fortunately for her and India, Divya's daring act booked her a ticket to Qualifiers and a golden glory to remember.
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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2020 20:55:46 IST