India’s first gold medal at the Asian Games came with a rider: rest on these laurels at your own peril. The Tokyo travel advisory should probably read: It’s a jungle out there in two years’ time. The Bajrang Punia-Takatani Daichi 65 kg final was a mongoose hunting down a snake, complete with the slithering and bared fangs, choke-holds and desperate escapes.
The 24-year-old from Haryana triumphed 11-8 in a final that will go down as a classic in India’s modern wrestling history for the battle of wits and brawn that tested his every sinew. But the military man from Tokyo — a contender as tenacious as Bajrang — will be waiting when 2020 comes around.
Bajrang is India’s fastest, most powerful and focused grappler at the moment. His fitness has been a revelation over the past few seasons, something that keeps him in the game until the last second. Still, he would not have expected that testimonial to his tenacity to be summoned to the last gasping moment on the way to winning one of the biggest finals of his life so far.
He was countered on the strongest aspect of his wrestling: his footwork. Bajrang prides himself on not allowing opponents to grab his ankle and unsettle him — but the Japanese raided that fortress not once but thrice to draw level with him. He foiled the attempts to flip him over on his back or shoulders by holding on to Daichi’s ankles. He managed to escape as the clock ticked away, and earn India a well deserved gold on Day 1.