Wrestler Bajrang Punia’s dream of winning an Olympic gold medal was shattered as he lost to three-time world champion Haji Aliyev 12-5 in their 65kg semifinal bout on Friday.
Bajrang has a chance to win the bronze medal on Saturday. He will face the winner of the repechage bout between Daulet Niyazbekov and Adama Diatta. Bajrang will become the second Indian wrestler to finish on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics if he wins.
Ravi Dahiya won the silver in the 57kg category on Thursday. The Haryana wrestler found the going tough against Aliyev.
Bajrang, wearing a brace on his right knee, won a passivity point inside the opening minute but found it hard to score further. He was constantly on the backfoot, mindful of his injured knee, and showed little attacking intent. Bajrang waited for Aliyev to make a mistake, but the Azerbaijan wrestler was at his dominant best.
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Bajrang made repeated appeals to the referee, pointing out that Aliyev was tugging at his jersey, but the officials did not agree.
Aliyev stayed low and worked on Bajrang’s knee and stormed to a 6-1 lead. The Indian continued to play cautiously and when he did attempt to take a point off Aliyev, the Azerbaijani countered to storm ahead 8-1. With the clock ticking down, Bajrang went for the kill, but Aliyev trapped him in a body-lock.
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Bajrang’s coach Shako Bendinitis felt the refereeing was poor and had a large impact on the result. “The referee was not on Bajrang’s side today and it affected him psychologically,” he said.
“Tomorrow is a new day and Bajrang has an even more important match. You are assured of at least a silver medal when you go into a final, but you have nothing if you lose tomorrow.”
Bajrang sneaked past Kyrgyzstan’s Ernazar Akmataliev in his first bout and then got past Iran’s Morteza Cheka Ghiasi at the very death of their quarterfinal bout. The Indian, who had a small limp walking into the arena, was put on the activity clock twice against the Iranian. Bajrang managed a buzzer-beating pin on Akmataliev to move into the medal round.
The second-ranked Bajrang had injured his right knee during the Ali Aliyev memorial tournament in Russia in June.
Seema Bisla, the other Indian wrestler in action on Friday, lost 1-3 to Tunisia’s Sarra Hamdi in her 50kg opening clash.