Antim wins bronze, learns her lesson
After being beaten by Akari Fujinami, the reigning world champion, the Indian worked her way to the medal through repechage.
Antim Panghal entered her maiden Asian Games as one of India's brightest medal hopes in the absence of defending champion Vinesh Phogat, but the task was always going to be an uphill one for the 19-year-old, more so when a certain Akari Fujinami, the reigning Asian and world champion on a 127-match winning run, happened to be in her side of the 53kg draw. And the result was not a surprise.
Panghal, a two-time defending world champion and the bronze medalllist at this year's senior World Championships, lost by fall to the Japanese wonder, a six-minute bout reduced to a 1:55-minute exhibition of power and technique.
As is her wont, Fujinami went on the offence early, her speed ensuring she got hold of Panghal almost at will. Three throws in the opening period is all it took for the Japanese to put the result beyond doubt and victory was secured a little over the halfway mark in the first period.
“Fujinami is a great wrestler. Everyone is saying that she will win the gold medal in Paris easily, but I will work hard and I hope can get close to her level,” Panghal said. The other result for the Indian went on the expected lines. Panghal won her opening bout against Jasmina Immaeva of Uzbekistan by technical superiority 11-0 before running into the Japanese.
The Japanese's march to the final opened the repechage route for the Indian who benefited from a walkover in the first round before beating Mongolian Bat-Ochir 3-1 in an attritional bout to win her maiden Asian Games bronze.
“It feels good to get a bronze medal. I was determined to not go back empty-handed," she said.
"The Mongolian opponent is also very good but I had confidence from the bronze at the World Championships only 10 days back. Also, my opponent for bronze here had earlier lost to the same opponent whom I had defeated 16-6 for a medal there. So, I was confident I will do well here,” she added.
Meanwhile, Fujinami steamrolled her way to the expected gold, beating Mongolia's Bolortuya Bat-Ochir 10-0 in the semis and before taking the crown against Tokyo Olympics silver medallist from China, Qianyu Pang, 10-0. Fujinami's unbeaten tally now stands at 129 bouts.
"Pang has been competing well at the international stage and I have been watching her videos since I was a kid. She is one of the wrestlers I have wanted to compete against. I think I performed better in the final than I had expected to," Fujinami said.
"My defence was my weak point at the World Championships. Therefore, I had the goal to fix that aspect at these Games. I competed with a goal, not letting the opponents touch my legs and the score reflected that," she added.
In the 50kg division, Pooja Gehlot lost to Japan’s eventual champion Remina Yoshimoto 10-0 in the semi-finals before going down 9-2 to Uzbekistan’s Aktenge Keunimjaeva in the bronze-medal bout. In the 57kg class, Mansi lost to Japan’s former world champion Tsugumi Sakurai in the quarter-final but was pinned by Laylokhon Sobirova of Uzbekistan for the bronze.
In the men's freestyle division, Narinder Cheema lost in the 97kg Greco-Roman quarter-finals to crash out of the medal race while Naveen went down to Minseok Kim of South Korea 5-1 in the 130kg category.
Star Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia, a defending champion in the 65kg division, will begin his title defence on Friday against Philippines' Ronil Tubog while the 57kg Asian champion Aman Sehrawat will kick off his maiden Asian Games campaign against South Korea's Kim Sunggwon. Women's 76kg class will have Kiran in action while Radhika will begin her campaign in the 68kg division. Sonam Malik will take the mat in the 62kg division, taking on Nepal's Sushila Chand in her opening bout.