Birmingham, Aug 5: Star Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia was a class apart while defending his title as he conceded just two points en route to the gold medal show while Sakshi Malik showed her experience to script a come-from-behind victory and secured a yellow metal in the Commonwealth Games 2022 here on Friday (August 5). Deepak Punia won India's third gold in wrestling on the first day of action and took the country's tally to nine golds.
Living up to the expectations, Indian wrestlers dominated the freestyle category as they won three gold medals out of four final contests. Only Anshu Malik settled for a silver in the final bout while the remaining three prevailed over their opponents and remained unbeaten.
Bajrang and Sakshi, the seasoned campaigners, won their respective games in the final and lost their first points in Birmingham only in the gold medal rounds. Young Deepak too proved too hot for his Pakistani counterpart to handle. Birthday girl Anshu grabbed silver in her maiden Commonwealth Games after going down against defending champion from Nigeria and broke into tears after losing.
Bajrang defends his gold
Such was Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang's dominance in the 65kg competition that he won three of his four bouts inside the first rounds. The 28-year-old defending champion beat Naurau's Lowe Bingham and Mauritius' Jean Guyliane Joris Bandou 'by fall' before winning by technical superiority against England's Geroge Ramm.
Canada's Lachlan Maurice McNeil fought well against Bajrang but the Indian was far superior in technique and stamina. Bajrang has been struggling to play freely since last year and his over defensive tactics put a question mark over his ability to extend his dominance in the international arena but on Friday he made his moves without inhibition.
However, the CWG is not the best platform to judge if Bajrang has got his mojo back because of the inferior field quality.
Maiden gold for Sakshi Malik
Sakshi - who had also come into the final riding on thumping victories in the quarters and semis as she too had secured wins by technical superiority - found some challenge from Ana Godinez Gonzalez of Canada. The Canadian grappler took an early lead over Sakshi and went 4-0 up in the first round. But Sakshi showed her experience to comeback strongly and won the game by pinfall.
It was an ideal opportunity for Sakshi, who has been battling for relevance for long, to get some confidence back and she used it to the optimum level in the 62kg contest.
She began by pinning home team wrestler Kelsey Barnes and followed that with a technical superiority win against Cameroon's Berthe Emilienne. In her two bouts, she did not concede a single point. With her first gold, she has bronze and silver in her CWG collection.
Anshu settles for silver on her birthday
Anshu, who has taken rapid strides in her career, reached the women's 57kg final with similar dominance but ended up second-best with a silver medal. The Nidani wrestler, who turned 21 on Friday, won by technical superiority against Australia's Irene Symeonidis and Sri Lanka's Nethmi Ahinsa Fernando Poruthotage. It did not take Anshu much time to measure her opponents.
Her trademark aggression and quality was too hot to handle for her rivals till the gold bout. The World Championship silver medallist though could not breach the defence of Nigeria's Odunayo Folasade Adekuoroye, losing the gold bout 3-7.
The Nigerian was strong with her defence and Anshu could not find a way to make her moves. She left the mat with tears in her eyes as it was not the birthday present she wanted to give herself.
Deepak wins gold on CWG debut
Also making the gold medal round was Deepak Punia (86kg) who did not look his dominant and quick self but still won his bouts without giving a point to his rivals. The wrestler from Chhara village began with a technical superiority win over Matthew Clay Oxenham from New Zealand and beat Canada's Alexander Moore 3-1, setting up the gold medal bout against Pakistan's Muhammad Inam. Deepak showed his defensive tactics well and used his bodyweight to win the match by a margin of 3-0. The Pakistani grappler couldn't offer much resistance to Deepak - who missed a medal in Tokyo by a whisker.
Divya wins bronze
Divya Kakran though got a tough draw as she found Tokyo Olympic silver medallist and 11-time African champion Blessing Oborududu from Nigeria. The first round was worth a final though Divya was outplayed by the formidable Nigerian. The Asian Games bronze medallist won her repechage round against Blandine Nyeh Ngiri by fall. She then faced Tonga's Cocker Lemalie Tiger Lily in the bronze play-off and won it by ball.
Mohit clinches bronze
Also fighting for bronze will be Mohit Grewal (125kg), who won against Cyprus' Alexios Kaouslidis 10-1 but lost his semifinal to Canada's Amarveer Dhesi by technical superiority. He defeated Jamaica's Aaron Anthony Johnson 6-0 to help India sweep medals in wrestling. The Indians won a medal in all six categories on Friday and as many medals are up for grabs on Saturday.
(With PTI inputs)