Aman Sehrawat booked his Asian Games ticket the hard way but there was always a question whether he would be as good as Ravi Dahiya, Olympic silver medalist and the man who rules in his weight category.
On Friday, the 20-year-old proved he was, with a bronze in the 57kg here that stood out among the three India won in wrestling on the day for Aman’s resilience and determination.
At the other end of the spectrum was reigning champion Bajrang Punia in the 65kg, returning to competitive action after 13 months while being in the spotlight for a large part of 2023 for non-competitive reasons, who went down 10-0 to Japan’s Kaiki Yamagushi in the bronze-medal match with 89 seconds still left on the clock.
Clearly out of depth on the mat, Bajrang looked spent even before the bout ended, buried his face into the mat after it was over and walked away without speaking to anyone, looking dejected.
Aman, though, proved he was here to fight.
A 6-1 win against South Korea’s Sunggwon Kim in the pre-quarterfinals set him up against Ebrahim Khari of Iran in the last eight and it looked to be all over for the youngster when trailing 1-8 in the first round itself.
Khari effected two take-downs for a 4-1 lead as Aman struggled to get his defences right, then got one more to make it 8-1. Aman closed the gap to 3-8 at the end of the round but no one could have predicted the turnaround in the second 3-minute period.
A double leg counter from Aman and the famed fitle (lace move) upturned the scoreline as the Indian raced to a 9-8 lead, then effected two take-downs to go 13-8.
Even a medical time-out was of no help to Khari as Aman upped the ante and increased the pace for an incredible 19-8 comeback win to enter the semifinals with 30 seconds remaining. He tried it again against Toshihiro Hasegawa and almost succeeded – the Japanese led 6-1 before Aman made it 8-5 – but four points to Hasegawa helped him close the bout 12-10.
In the bronze medal bout, Aman thrashed Minghu Liu of China 11-0 in just over four minutes.
“I made some mistakes today and I will keep working on them. I came here to win gold but I’m going home with a bronze. It is disappointing but I will hopefully learn from these mistakes,” Aman said. His performance here will make the competition in the 57kg more interesting as and when Dahiya returns to the mat after recovering to full fitness.
Dahiya was still struggling with a knee injury during the selection trials in July but will be eager to prove his top status.
Bajrang had easy opening rounds but against Iranian Rahman Amouzadkhalili in the semifinals, he barely tested his opponent, who won 8-1. Against Yamaguchi, he trailed 4-0 in the first period and looked out of the fight all through before the tame end.
Among the women, Sonam won both her first two bouts 10-0 for victory by technical superiority, before being pinned by eventual champion North Korea’s Hyongyong Mun while trailing 0-7.
She returned in the evening session for her bronze medal match, winning 7-5 against local favourite Jia Long in the 62kg.
In the 76kg, Kiran too finished with a bronze, winning two of her three bouts to assure herself of a medal. She edged past Japan’s Nodoka Yamamoto 3-0 in the quarterfinals, was pinned by her Kazakh opponent in the semis but overcame Mongolia’s Ariunjargal Ganbat 6-3 for bronze.
Radhika lost her only bout in the 68kg quarterfinals to bow out of the competition.