Deepak Punia books Tokyo Olympics quota, to fight for gold at World C'ship
Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan): Reigning junior world champion Deepak Punia placed himself in line for the senior world title by reaching the 86kg final apart from booking his Tokyo Olympics quota, here on Saturday.
Competing in his maiden senior world championship, Deepak moved to the final with a commanding 8-2 win over Switzerland's Stefan Reichmuth.
He will fight for the title against 2016 Rio Olympics 74kg gold medallist Hassan Yazdanicharati of Iran on Sunday. Yazdanicharati had also won 2018 Asian Games 86kg gold.
It has been a steady progress for Deepak, who won the World Cadet title in 2016 and became junior world champion only last month in Estonia. He can now emulate double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar who is till now the only Indian to have won a World Championships title in 2010.
The 20-year old Deepak also ensured that India will return from the World Championship with its best ever performance as the country is now assured of four medals.
Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya have already won a bronze medal each. All of them qualified for the Tokyo Olympics as well.
Rahul Aware can make it even better if he wins Sunday's bronze medal bout in the 61kg non-Olympic category. He lost his semifinal bout 6-10 to Beka Lomtadze of Georgia.
India had returned with three medals in 2013.
Deepak's all-round ability -- defence, attack, stamina and awareness on the mat -- played a key role in his memorable performance.
"I had genuinely hoped for a medal and Olympic quota. So, it is a double delight for me. My seniors like Sushil Kumar and Bajrang Punia inspire me," Deepak told PTI.
"I felt a bit under pressure when I fought with the Kazakh wrestler (in quarterfinals). He had beaten me in Italy early this year and I was a bit apprehensive about fighting the home wrestler because of the Bajrang bout (controversy)," he added.
There was no action in the first period of the semifinal with Deepak gaining a 1-0 lead on activity clock.
In the second period, Deepak pushed out Reichmuth and took the Swiss down for a 4-0 lead. He lost two points but another takedown and expose move clinched it for Deepak.
The 20-year-old Deepak, who trains at Chhatrasal stadium in Delhi, had booked the quota after prevailing 7-6 in a tense semifinal against Colombia's Carlos Arturo Mendez.
With one minute to go, he was trailing 3-6 but pulled off a takedown and then an expose move to take 7-6 lead in the dying moments of the tense bout.
Also doing a commendable job was Aware who reached the bronze medal round in the 61kg non-Olympic category after reaching the semifinals.
Both Deepak and Rahul overcame rough Kazakh wrestlers en route the semifinals.
Aware lost a pacy semifinal 6-10 to Beka Lomtadze of Georgia, the European championship silver medallist.
The Indian fell behind 1-8 after Lomtadze dominated the first period with his quick moves and solid defence.
However, the Georgian began to tire after the break and Aware reduced the deficit with a push out and two consecutive take-downs. With just 21 seconds left in the bout and still trailing 6-8, Aware needed a big throw but it was Lomtadze who earned two points to seal his place in the final.
Deepak had bumped into home wrestler Adilet Davlumbayev in his opening round and looked a bit nervous before the bout, probably fearing partiality. However,
he played very smartly to defeat the home favourite despite trailing 0-5.