Bajrang Punia on Saturday added another chapter to India’s glorious history in wrestling history by winning the bronze medal in men’s freestyle 65kg, beating Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan 8-0 on points for his first medal at the Olympics.
Bajrang, who had lost to Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan in the semifinals on Friday, came up with a tactical bout as he took an early lead in the first period and capitalized with counterattacks when his Kazakh rival, a two-time medallist at the World Championships, went on the attack.
The 27-year-old Punia’s bronze medal took India’s tally in the Tokyo Olympics to six medals — two silver and four bronze. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra later added a gold to the tally to make it seven medals.
Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu (silver), wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya (silver), shutter PV Sindhu (bronze), boxer Lovlina Borgohain (bronze), and the men’s hockey team (bronze) are the other medallists for India in Tokyo.
This was India’s seventh medal in wrestling — two silver and five bronze medals. Sushil Kumar (London 2012) and Ravi Kumar Dahiya (Tokyo 2020) won the silver medals, while KD Jadhav (Helsinki 1952), Sushil Kumar (Beijing 2008), Yogeshwar Dutt (London 2012), Sakshi Malik (Rio 2016), and Bajrang Punia (Tokyo 2020) bagged the bronze medals.
Punia’s bout also brought to an end India’s campaign in wrestling as they ended with a silver and bronze medal, the same as London in 2012.
Punia, who had opted out of the London Olympics in favor of his mentor Yogeshwar Dutta, finally claimed his first medal in his maiden Olympics, beating Niyazbekov comfortably at the Makuhari Messe Hall on Saturday.
Both wrestlers started the bout cautiously — Punia a bit circumspect because he had lost to Niyazbekov in the 2019 World Championships semifinals.
However, it was the grappler from Haryana who scored the first point through a passivity penalty on Niyazbekov, who had suffered another heartbreak as he had lost the bronze medal match in 2012.
The Kazakh tried hard to erase the deficit quickly and had Punia on the back foot but the Indian defended well to avert the danger.
Punia doubled his lead just before the end of the first period when he pushed his opponent out of bounds.
Punia could not have defended in the second period because the lead was too less. He dominated the final period and bagged six points, thus sealing the bronze medal.
He went on the counterattack as soon as Niyazbekov went on the offensive. He scored a two-point takedown to make it 4-0 and bagged two more points and followed it up with two more with good defense and counter-attack to seal the bronze medal.