Star grappler Bajrang Punia, on the verge of creating history, failed to overcome a tough, but tactically very good Takuto Otuguro from Japan when he lost the 65kg Freestyle final 9-16 in the World Championships at the Papp László Sportarénain Budapest on Monday night.
Thus, Punia settled for a silver medal and also became the only Indian wrestler to win two medals at the Worlds though could not emulate two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, who still holds the record of winning the lone gold in the 66kg class in 2010 Moscow championships.
“It was so near and yet so far,” was how the 24-year-old reacted, speaking from Budapest. “Having reached the final, I expected to win gold but I will have to be satisfied with a silver medal. I am happy to have bettered my bronze medal effort, achieved five years ago at the same venue,” added Punia, unable to control his emotions.
Earlier in the year, Bajrang Punia won gold medals at both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
It was, undoubtedly, one of the most aggressive finals one had witnessed in the championships. The reigning Cadet World champion stamped his authority right from the word go, logging his first point on step out and then added a four-pointers for the lift to lead 5-0. Equally aggressive Punia got his first two points on take down and narrowed down the first-period lead to 6-7.
But despite his determined return in the second period, the balance had tilted in favour of the Japanese who scored three points to go up 9-6 on a take down and a step out. With time running out, the onus was on the Indian, who used all his tricks and force to go for the leg and upper body but the Japanese defended stoutly, including adopting ‘delayed tactics’. No doubt, they fetched the Indian two points with a couple of warnings to Otuguro but in the end it didn’t matter much to the eventual winner who was way ahead of Punia. The Indian just about manage to add another point with the clock ticking away even as the Japanese surged to nine in the second period.
Coach Jagmander Singh, disappointed as he was, said it was not India’s day at Budapest. “Yes, we all would have wanted him to win gold, but a silver medal is no mean achievement. But Punia has been consistent throughout the season and has wrapped up this season with two major titles and a silver medal in the world championships here. And this is what every wrestler dream about,” said the coach, applauding Punia’s efforts in the season.
Earlier in the day, both Pankaj Rana in 70 kg and Mausam Khatri in 97 kg bowed out without much to show. Rana went down 0-10 to Ikhtivor Navruzov of Uzbekistan in the second round while winning the first round against Jarvissadam Blesam Tarkong of Palau (10-0) by technical fall. However, Khatri lost in the first round to Jose Daniel Dias Robertti of Venezuela 2-12.
In women’s Freestyle event, Seema lost her second-round bout (0-10) to Davaachimeg Erkhembayar of Mongolia by fall after receiving first-round bye in 55 kg category. But Sarita managed to win two rounds before losing to Shoovdor Baatarjay of Mongolia, also by fall in the quarterfinals. The Indian lost 10-0.