Navjot Kaur produced a dominating performance in the final of the women’s 65 kg freestyle category to clinch the gold medal in what was a day to remember for Indian wrestling at the Asian Wrestling Championships in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. With Sakshi Malik winning the bronze medal in the 62 kg category, India’s medal tally stood at one gold, one silver and four bronze medals on Friday.
In the process, Navjot Kaur became the first Indian woman has stood at the top of the podium at the senior Asian Wrestling Championships.
Navjot Kaur was impressive throughout her final bout against Japan’s Miya Imai as she recorded a convincing 9-1 win while Sakshi Malik emerged from a hard-fought bronze medal playoff against Kazhakstan’s Ayaulym Kassymova with a 10-7 scoreline.
The Japanese wrestler made the initial moves but Kaur stayed strong on defence. A counter-attack from the Indian gave her a 2-0 lead, but it was wiped out after a successful challenge by the Japanese coaches.
With less than 20 seconds left on the clock in the first half of the bout, Kaur was under pressure from Miya Imai again who had caught hold of the Indian’s right leg. Kaur’s defence was solid and she was able to convert it into points on her own, taking a 2-0 lead again and this time around the challenge from Japanese coaches didn’t stand and the scoreline was revised to 5-0 in the Indian’s favour heading into the 30-second break.
With a healthy head in her favour going into the final three minutes, it was a question of Kaur hanging on defensively. As expected Imai came out all guns blazing. With 50 secs left, she got on the scoreboard finally, making it 1-5.
And then came the moment of the bout. With Imai once again targeting Kaur’s right leg, the Punjabi read what was coming and produced a breathtaking counterattacking move - a throwdown resulting in four points a deserved 9-1 win as the clock wound down.
Kaur was in tears as she was paraded around the mat on her coach’s shoulders with the tri-colour draped on her back. The 28-year-old has been around the wrestling circuit a while, as she had previously won silver at the Asian Championships in 2013 and also has a bronze from the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Bronze for Malik
In the first medal bout of the evening for India, Sakshi Malik did not get off to a good start, going down 4-0 in the first 30 seconds after a throwdown by the Kazhak caught her off guard. The Indian quickly recovered to push Kassymova out of bounds from that move, reducing the deficit to three points.
And after a few seconds, Malik once again turned defence into attack to give Kassymova a taste of her own medicine with a 4-point move herself.
With a less than 10 seconds left in the first round, Kassymova went on the attack to a 6-5 lead into the break – it could have been much bigger but for Malik’s defensive recovery.
The Indian then started the second half on the front foot, pushing her opponent out of bounds and regaining a 1-point lead. A similar move made it 8-6 for Malik with less than two minutes to go. From then on it was a matter of keeping her opponent at an arm’s length and Malik hung on despite a series of attacking moves from her opponent with the clock running out and emerged a deserving winner.
Navjot Kaur’s fine run
The Punjabi wrestler started slowly in her category, losing her first group stage match against the very opponent she dominated in the final but regained some momentum in winning her next group encounter and then went on to win the semifinals against Mongolia’s Tsevegmed Enkhbayar 2-1.
Kaur lost her opener narrowly to Imai 4-4 in her first match. She came back strongly though in her next match, overpowering her opponent, Bakhtigul Baltaniazova of Uzbekistan.
The Uzbeki wrestler stood no chance as Kaur steamrolled her way to victory, as the match was stopped with 4 minutes and 2 seconds on the clock, with the Indian leading 10-0.
In the semis, her match went the whole distance, but she overcame Enkhbayar to set up a final clash against Imai that she ended up dominating.