The KD Jadhav arena at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium Complex in New Delhi was the hub of international wrestling last week. 300 men and women from over 20 countries fought hard to put on their best show and compete for 24 gold medals in freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s wrestling events of the 2017 Asian Championships which was scheduled from the 10th to the 14th of this month. The Indians have magnified their performance winning 10 medals in all – one gold, five silver and four bronze and ended 5th overall in the medals table. In the last edition of the tournament at Bangkok, India had won 9 medals to finish 7th overall. The Iranian men defended their country’s title in men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman while Japan is the champion in women’s wrestling. India ranks 8th in freestyle, 7th in Greco-Roman and 2nd in women’s wrestling.
Grabbing the much-needed gold
Bajrang Punia claimed the country’s first gold of the tournament as he pinned down South Korea’s Seongchul Lee 6-2 in the men’s 65 kg Freestyle final on Saturday. A hard-fought win, the grappler started the bout on a low note lagging 0-2 throughout the first period. But quickly picked up pace in the second session scoring 3 points with a step-out and a takedown. A penalty issued against the Korean got him 2 more points and one more when Lee’s protest was turned down by the referee thus ending the tough battle at 6-2. Bajrang defeated Mesiam Abolfazl Nasiri of Iran 7-5 in the quarterfinal. He paved his way to the final by overpowering Kukgwang Kim of the People’s Republic of Korea in a 3-2 cut to cut match. “My strength has always been my stamina”, says the reigning champion who had won silver in 2014 and a bronze in 2013.
Five finalists, five silvers
Meanwhile, the women finalists – Vinesh Phogat (55 kg), Sarita (58 kg), Sakshi Malik (60 kg) and Divya Kakran (69 kg) – all had to settle for silver on the 3rd day of the tournament. Sumit finished second in the 125kg freestyle event. Returning post a career threatening injury, this was Vinesh Phogat’s first tournament after the Rio Games. On top of that, she had to change her category from 48kg to 55kg. Nevertheless, Vinesh has made a respectable comeback and has shown some brilliant valour. She lost to Sae Nanjo but made sure not to give the Japanese an easy way out and put in all her might to bridge the gap at 4-8 in the gold medal match. Prior to the final, she comfortably defeated Sevara Eshmuratova of Uzbekistan by a technical fall 10-0 in the quarterfinals and Qi Zhang of China 4-0 in the semi-finals. For Vinesh, winning silver in the 55kg category is nothing short of gold in the 48kg category.
Sakshi Malik, on the other hand, went down within just two minutes and 44 seconds, losing to Japan’s Olympic star Risako Kawai by a 10-0 technical fall. There were huge expectations from the nation’s Olympic star but Sakshi, who had moved up from the 58kg to the 60kg category failed to outwit her opponent’s aggression. The match was a cake walk for Japan’s Olympic champion Risako Kawai. Sakshi gave an impressive start to the day by winning the first game 6-2 against Nabira Esenbaeva of Uzbekistan. She also conquered the bout against Kazakhstan’s Ayaulum Kassymova winning 15-3 by a technical fall to enter the finals.
In the 69 kg category, Divya too fell trap to the Japanese quick minds. Pinned down by Olympic champion Sara Dosho of Japan, she lost the gold medal 0-8. In the semi-finals, Divya defeated Korea’s Hyeonyeong Park with a stunning 12-4. She beat the Chinese Chen-Chi Huang 2-0 by fall in the quarterfinals.
Sarita had replaced Sakshi Malik in the 58kg category. She won the quarterfinal against Asem Seydametova of Uzbekistan 10-0 by a technical fall. She won the semi-finals in a similar fashion defeating Vietnam’s Thi Huong Dao by 12-0. However, the final match was not so easy for the aspiring grappler. Not giving her any chance to score, Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova humbled Sarita 6-0 to take away the gold.
The final day of the championship also saw an Indian making it to the gold medal match. In the men’s 125kg freestyle bout, Sumit, however, had to make peace with the second position as he went down to Iranian Yadollah Mohammadkazem Mohebi 2-6. Resuming 7 months post a back surgery, the Indian failed to give an intense fight. He gained 2 points by pushing the Iranian out of the mat but succumbed to the daunting Iranian. Sumit, who trains under Indian’s two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, defeated Taiki Yamamoto of Japan 6-3 and Farkhod Anakulov of Tajikistan 7-2 in the quarterfinals and semi-finals respectively.
And the bronze medallists: Ritu Phogat, Anil Kumar, Harpreet Singh and Jyoti
On the opening day, in the 80kg Greco-Roman battle for bronze, Harpreet Singh defeated Junjie Na of China 3-2 and won the first medal of the tournament for India. In the 48kg category, Ritu Phogat got an easy victory over China’s Yanan Sun by injury default, 0-0 got a by walkover. Anil Kumar outwitted opponent Shamsiddinov Muhammadali of Uzbekistan 7-6 in the 85kg Greco-Roman bronze medal bout. Jyoti overpowered Seoyeon Jeong of Korea 5-1 in the 75kg class to win the bronze.
Asian wrestlers lodge complaint with the Wrestling Federation of India
According to a report of India Today, athletes who had arrived in Delhi for the championship faced cleanliness issues at the KD Jadhav indoor hall. In a bid to avoid the filthy toilets, dirty surroundings, mosquitoes and fear of falling prey to diseases like chikungunya and dengue, some athletes had been forced to answer nature’s call out in the open. The unhygienic state of the stadium came to notice of the authorities only after receiving filth reports. Ensuring sanitary conditions of an international stadium seems to have been ignored. Sports Minister Vijay Goel gave a surprise visit to look into the matter soon after the news spread. When questioned the Sports Authority of India administrator Manjushree S Rao blamed the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) for the negligence. SAI have rented out the place to WFI. Appropriate measures were then taken to cater to the problem.
Another report said that the Indian women wrestlers who had come directly from a Lucknow camp were left stranded as no hotel had been booked for them. They had to spend the whole day at the stadium itself. “We spent our whole day at the stadium. We came here in the morning (on May 10) and we were tired and forced to sleep in the stadium only. We were assigned a hotel late in the evening”, said a female wrestler to Mail Today. Authorities playing blame games, shrugging off responsibilities, mismanagement and event specific maintenance of stadiums yet again point fingers at the poor state of administration of sports in the nation.