Ravi Kumar Dahiya became just the second Indian wrestler to make an Olympic final after staging a remarkable comeback against Kazakhstan's Nurislam Sanayev in the men's 57kg semifinal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Wednesday. He will face ROC's two-time World Champion Zaur Uguev in the final on Thursday. Sushil Kumar is the only Indian to make the gold medal bout - he won silver at the 2012 Olympics in London.
This is the fourth consecutive Olympics where India has won a wrestling medal. India's previous medals in wrestling came through KD Jadhav (bronze in 1952), Sushil (bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012), Yogeshwar Dutt (bronze in 2012) and Sakshi Malik (bronze in 2016).
When the draw was announced, it had seemed that fate was smiling on Ravi. He had first up Oscar Tigreros and then Giorgi Vangelov, both of whom were dispatched with ease, Ravi winning by technical superiority --- the official term for a 10-point margin during a bout.
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Against Sanayev - who entered the match with a head injury suffered earlier in the day - in the semi-final, it took every last bit of skill to put himself with a shot of reaching the final. A lapse in concentration led to him being trapped in an ankle lace - his 2-1 lead became a 9-2 deficit. But Ravi wasn't done. Prior to Sanayev's eight point burst, he had been pulling Sanayev one way and another, leaning on him, exhausting him. Now it seemed Sanayev had burnt himself out in extending that lead and was satisfied with parking the bus.
In his quarterfinal against Japan's Yuki Takahashi, Sanayev had grabbed his opponent's singlet to deny him leverage and claimed injury to earn rest time. He tried the same with Ravi but it didn't work.
With the match at 9-5 in Sanayev's favour, and about a minute and ten seconds left on the clock, Sanayev claimed another injury, to his leg. He took another minute and a half off but, rather than get frustrated, Ravi calmed himself down - pacing around the mat for Sanayev to return. When he did, the pressure was back on. This time Ravi shot a double leg takedown and then transitioned to a chest wrap with the Kazakh's shoulder blades an inch above the canvas. In desperation, he appeared to bite at Ravi's bicep but there was no release, not until the referee slapped the mat and blew his whistle to announce the pin.
There was no burst of elation or exuberance from Ravi. This was just a job done and he now he was already looking forward to his next contest - the gold medal match against Zaur Uguev. The Russian is a master of the mat, inventive, technically brilliant and also has a win over Ravi at the World Championships. It will take all of Ravi's ability to make the match competitive.
"I had no business conceding that much lead against Sanayev. I am not happy with it. I have beaten Sanayev twice before, so I knew I can pull it off despite trailing by a huge margin. I was assured inside, but I should not have conceded lead and made it a close fight. That was pretty bad of me," Dahiya told PTI.
"I still have some unfinished business to do. I came with a target here and that is not complete yet (winning gold)," he said.
Meanwhile, second seed Deepak Punia lost to former world champion David Morris Taylor III in the semis of the men's 86kg category. He'll now contest the bronze medal bout on Thursday. In the women's section, 19-year-old Anshu Malik lost her opening match 2-8 in the 57kg category to European champion Iryna Kurachkina. However she is still in medal contention through the repechage as Kurachkina advanced to the gold medal bout. Anshu will face ROC's Valeria Koblova in the first round of repechage on Thursday. Koblova won silver in the women's 58 kg category at the Rio Olympics and also won a silver in the 2014 World Championships.
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 defeated 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, Deepak would have seen his Olympic hopes dim. Then with the Chinese wrestler content to hold on for the win, Deepak 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 Deepak had reached the semifinals of the Olympics, and is now one win away from a guaranteed medal.
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 eventually even as the Indian fought hard on her Olympic debut.