India’s Ravi Dahiya began his Olympics campaign with two technical superiority victories to reach the men’s freestyle 57kg semifinals with ease on Wednesday. Second seed Deepak Punia also notched contrasting wins in his opening two matches in the men’s 86kg category to join Ravi in the semis.
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Ravi will face Kazakhstan’s Nurislam Sanayev in the semis, while Deepak will take on U.S.’s David Morris Taylor III. Sanayev is a two-time Worlds medalist, having won silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019. Ravi had also won a bronze at the 2019 Worlds. Taylor III was the 2018 World Champion in the 86kg category.
In the women’s section, 19-year-old Anshu Malik lost her opening match 2-8 in the women’s 57kg category to European champion Iryna Kurachkina.
The fourth-seeded Ravi consistently attacked the right leg of Colombia’s Oscar Tigreros Urbano as he remained dominant, apart from conceding a take-down in the first period in his first bout.
Ravi, the reigning Asian champion and Worlds bronze medalist, nailed the win with one minute and 10 seconds still remaining in the bout, which was stopped after he raced to a winning 13-2 lead.
The Indian effected five take-down moves in the second period, showing his technical prowess.
He then defeated Bulgaria’s Georgi Vangelov too by technical superiority in their quarterfinal bout. Against Vangelov, Dahiya relied on his double leg attacks, building his lead gradually.
Deepak made the most of an easy draw by getting past Nigeria’s Ekerekeme Agiomor, the African championship bronze medalist in his opening bout. The Nigerian was agile but Deepak was technically sound and won comfortably.
He then defated China’s Lin Zushen in a very tightly-contested quarterfinal to add an Olympics semis appearance to his silver medal at the last World Championships.
He opened up a 3-1 lead but Lin effected a takedown to draw level 3-3 and head on criteria. The referee awarded two points to Deepak for a throw but the decision was overturned after a successful challenge by China.
With just 10 seconds to go, Punia would have seen his Olympic hopes dim. Then with the Chinese wrestler content to hold on for the win, Punia ducked his hips, lifted Zushen off the mat, turned him over and got behind him with the very last action of the match. The Chinese team protested but it was almost out of frustration. The late takedown and the point for a failed protest meant Punia had reached the semifinals of the Olympics, and is now one win away from a guaranteed medal.
Before the start of the day’s play, that would have been a result Punia’s team would have been targeting. The Indian wrestling contingent would have thought they had it on Tuesday when the draws for the men’s 57kg freestyle category and the 86kg division were announced. India’s representatives in the two weight classes were both World medallists – Ravi Dahiya winning bronze and Deepak Punia taking silver at Nur Sultan in 2019, but you always need a bit of luck in sport.
Dahiya’s draw saw him up against Urbano, who had finished ninth at the 2019 Worlds, and then prospectively against Georgi Vangelov, the European 5th place finisher. His first real test would be in the semifinal against either two-time world medallist Nurislam Sanayev or Japan’s Yuki Takahashi, who had won gold at the 2017 worlds, or top seed Stepan Micic, all of whom he has winning records against. Punia meanwhile had Nigeria’s Ekerekeme Agiomor and then a likely matchup against Zushen, who had only finished 33rd at the 2019 Worlds, before a likely mountain against USA’s David Taylor.
Punia rolled over his physically strong but technically outmatched opponent from Nigeria in his first match before he found himself with a tougher ask against Zushen. But if Punia had to dig deep to pull himself out of a hole against Zushen, Dahiya didn’t even appear to break a sweat. He outscored his opponents 27-7 beating both by technical superiority (awarded when there is a 10 point gap between wrestlers). The closest a wrestler got was when Urbano leveled to 2-2 early in the first round. Ravi though got a step out point and then blitzed the Colombian 10-0 in the second period.
In the semifinal Dahiya faces Sanayev, who got past Takahashi in a controversial decision in which he was not penalised for inordinate delays of play and for tugging at his opponent’s jersey. Dahiya though is unlikely to be fazed by this. The last time the two faced in the semifinals of the Asian Championships, Dahiya had been a dominant 7-2 winner. A change of the result would be a huge surprise keeping in mind Sanayev’s conditioning woes and a head wound he is carrying into the contest.
Asian champion Anshu made a strong comeback after conceding a 0-4 lead against the Belarusian with two push out points. She also managed to get hold of Kurachkina’s right leg but could not complete the move.
On the counter attack, Anshu conceded another two-pointer but kept fighting. The European relied on her experience to prevail.
Anshu’s chances to come back in the competition will depend on Kurachkina’s progress. If the Belarusian makes the final, Anshu will enter the repechage round.