World Wrestling Championships 2019: Analysing Bajrang Punia's run to the Tokyo Olympics quota and bronze medal
Here’s a detailed analysis of how Bajrang won India the Tokyo Olympics quota and a bronze medal at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships:
Amongst the Indian contingent, Bajrang Punia was supposed to be one wrestler considered a sure-shot contender for gold.
He’s a two-time Worlds medallist, including silver at 2018 championships in Budapest.
But the script was torn with the Indian losing controversially in the semis to local hope Daulet Niyazbekov.
Amongst the 18-member contingent sent to Nur-Sultan, Bajrang Punia was supposed to be one wrestler considered a sure-shot contender for gold. He’s a two-time Worlds medallist, including silver at last year’s championships in Budapest.
But the script was torn with the Indian losing in the semis to local hope Daulet Niyazbekov.
Round 1 against Krzysztof Bienkowski of Poland
The first two minutes of the bout were pretty unremarkable with both wrestlers content to butt antlers rather than go for the kill. The Polish wrestler though dropped his first point after not being able to pick up any points during the 30-second passivity penalty. But with the first period coming to an end, Bajrang finally upped the tempo and made his move by effecting a two-point takedown and then pushing the Polish grappler out of bounds. Bienkowski was also ordered to get into the par terre position for his negative wrestling, which the Polish wrestler’s coach challenged and lost, thereby conceding one more point to Bajrang. When the match started, the Indian could not turn his opponent from the par terre position.
Bajrang went into the break with a 5-0 lead. At the start of the second period, Bajrang tried to mount an attack on his opponent’s legs, but Bienkowski caught him in a gut wrench. Unfortunately for the Indian, his defence held staunchly for a few minutes but the Pole eventually got behind him to effect a two-point takedown after dropping Bajrang belly-down on the mat.
Understanding that his lead was not particularly secure, Bajrang started to attack a little bit more at the fag end of the contest. He got a two-point takedown with 41 seconds left and repeated the move with four seconds left to emerge a 9-2 winner.
Round 2 against David Habat of Slovenia
As opposed to the previous contest, this time around Bajrang was attacking from the start. Not surprisingly, his first points came with a deft two-point takedown inside the first 20 seconds. Habat responded by grabbing Bajrang’s right ankle half-a-minute later. Bajrang, though, was wily enough to not let that result into him dropping points. With time in the first period ticking down, Bajrang picked up another point thanks to his opponent being hit by the passivity penalty, where he could not score any points.
In the second period, Habat grabbed hold of the Indian’s right ankle again, but after around 15 seconds of threat looming over Bajrang, he managed to weasel out of the hold without dropping any points. The match ended 3-0 in Bajrang’s favour with the Indian managing to keep his legs out of the reach of the Slovenian.
Quarter-final against Jong Chol Son of North Korea
Bajrang started this bout on the defensive, with Son attacking his legs and grabbing hold of his left ankle. Luckily for the Indian, he was able to drop just one point from the maneuver ― for being pushed out of bounds ― than giving away more points for being taken down.
Bajrang wrested back control of the game soon enough, tripping the North Korean and effecting a two-point takedown. With just over 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining in the first period, he tried to use a leg lace (the move called fitele in Hindi and made famous by Bajrang’s guru, Yogeshwar Dutt), where you grab a wrestlers' legs around the ankles and roll, each roll earning you two points. If it had worked, the match could have ended right at that moment since defending against the leg lace is next to impossible. But it didn’t come off, with the Korean freeing his legs before Bajrang could start rolling. The Indian grabbed the North Korean’s ankle again soon, and this time converted the move into two points. A few seconds before the break, Bajrang found himself in a spot of bother as Son got behind him and was threatening to effect a takedown. But the bell saved Bajrang and the Indian went into the break with a 4-1 lead.
After a testy start to the second period, Bajrang got another takedown at the halfway point. The Indian seemed exhausted by the end of the bout, even letting Son escape easily after grabbing his ankle at one point with two seconds left. With a few seconds remaining, the Korean launched a despairing dive for Bajrang’s legs, but the Indian was alert enough to evade him and get behind the Korean to complete an 8-1 victory.
Semi-finals against Daulet Niyazbekov
This is one bout which will be talked about for a while thanks to the controversy generated.
The Kazakh wrestler started brightly with a two-point takedown right in the first minute. A few seconds of frantic grappling later, Bajrang levelled the scores with a pass-by which he ended with a takedown.
With coach Shako Bentinidis bellowing 'more moving, more moving' in the final few seconds of the first period, Bajrang made a desperate move to get his opponent's legs, but failed as the pair went into the break with the scores at 2-2.
15 seconds into the second period, controversy hit. Bajrang, standing on the edge of the ring, had his opponent by a headlock, and it appeared like he had used his force to throw him behind for a takedown, but the judges saw it the other way, giving Niyazbekov four points for a takedown even though the referee standing next to the wrestlers had awarded Bajrang four points. The Indian wrestler and coach Shako were visibly livid at the decision and challenged the move. They lost the challenge, giving an additional point to the Kazakh grappler which swelled his lead to 2-7.
The Kazakh added two more points after grabbing Bajrang's legs with just over two minutes remaining on the clock. Niyazbekov tried desperately to apply a leg lace, but Bajrang held firm.
Bajrang responded by effecting a takdown for two points, at which point the home wrestler started his stalling tactics, taking his own sweet time to return to position. He also started attacking the Indian's face, which should have been penalised by the judges but wasn't.
By now, the home wrestler looked exhausted. Bajrang took advantage stealing two more points to reduce the deficit to three points.
There were a few occasions in the bout where the referee gave Bajrang points but it was white paddled by the judges.
With 11 seconds left on the clock, Bajrang was still two points down. But he was able to bring down his opponent for two more points tying the game. The Indian could not collect any more points after this point, leading to the Kazakh winning by virtue of the criteria rule (Since Niyazbekov had made a four-point move, he was awarded the match).
Bronze medal play-off against Mongolia's Tumur Ochir
The pair had also met in the last Worlds, where Bajrang had beaten him in the semis at Budapest en route to making it to the final.
Bajrang had the worst possible start to this bout after conceding a two-point takedown early on. He was soon close to be pinned when the Mongolian had him nearly flat on his back, but the Indian managed to keep the shoulder raised. He still fell behind 6-2 thanks to the move.
Bajrang came into the second period with a 2-6 deficit and eager to win at least a bronze. He soon had Ochir by his ankle but the Mongolian wriggled away.
But Bajrang had more tricks up his sleeve, making a move which had Ochir flat on his belly on the mat, and turned his opponent thrice for six points, which gave him a 8-6 lead. The Mongolian pushed the Indian out of bounds in the last second, to narrow the gap but it was still not enough to prevent India from winning another bronze medal.
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