Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan): Rahul Aware won the biggest medal of his career by bagging a bronze while an injured Deepak Punia settled for a silver after pulling out of the final as India celebrated its best-ever performance at the World Wrestling Championship here on Sunday.
Aware outclassed Tyler Lee Graff, the 2017 Pan- America champion, 11-4 in the 61kg bronze play-off to take India’s tally to five medals.
Deepak, the reigning junior world champion did not take mat against Iranian great Hasan Yazdani due to an ankle injury, sustained during the semi-final.
The other medal winners in this edition are Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya and Vinesh Phogat.
India’s previous best show was at the 2013 edition, when the country had won three medals through Amit Dahiya (silver), Bajrang Punia (bronze) and Sandeep Tulsi Yadav (bronze in Greco-Roman)
Winning gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was 27-year-old Aware’s best performance before.
“I could have won a gold. It was within my reach. I could have won that semi-final (against Beka Lomtadze). I botched it up in the first period,” Aware told PTI.
Aware had shown early promise when he won bronze medals at the Asian Championships in 2009 and 2011 but suddenly vanished from the scene after that.
“The injuries pegged me back. I was ready in 2014 but then there were no trials for the CWG or the Asian Games. So I did not get a chance to prove my worth, he argued.
“I feared for losing this chance. After a long time, something good was waiting for me and I was really scared to lose it. I am glad I pulled it off,” Aware heaved a sigh of relief.
Westling of late has been a sport dominated by grapplers from Haryana and Aware is first from Maharashtra to win a senior World medal.
“But Maratha sports history will remember me for winning this medal. I am first from that region to do this,” he said adding that he would dedicate his medal to his first coach, late Harichander Brajdar.
For the record, the greatest ever Maharashtrian wrestler undoubtedly is late KD Jadhav, who won independent India’s first individual medal, a bronze in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
Aware, who now trains under Kaka Pawar in Pune, said he was under a lot of self-imposed pressure going into the bout. The American surprised Aware with a double leg attack, the moment the bout started and earned two points with a takedown.
However, he became alert and twice wriggled out of Graff’s right leg attacks. He also scored consecutive takedown points to lead 4-2 at the break.
In the second period too, Graff got hold of Aware’s right leg but the Indian got himself out of trouble in an impressive manner.
He then pulled the bout away from the American with a flurry of moves the takedowns and expose taking a commanding 10-2 lead. It consolidated further when the American lost a challenge. Eventually he won 11-4.
The morning of the final day of the championships brought with it the news that Deepak will not be able to compete in Sunday’s final.
“The left foot is not taking the load. It’s difficult to fight in this condition and could have aggravated the injury. I know it was a big chance to fight against Yazdani but I can’t help it,” Deepak told PTI.
Deepak had come out of the mat limping and a swollen right eye after his semifinal against Switzerland’s Stefan Reichmuth.
It was a good draw for Deepak and he exploited it to get the biggest medal of his career.
In a dream run, Deepak reached the final with wins over Reichmuth, Colombia’s Carlos Arturo Mendez and Kazakhstan’s Adilet Davlumbayev. He became only the fifth Indian ever to reach the World Championship final after Bishamber Singh (1967) Sushil Kumar (2010), Amit Dahiya (2013) and Bajrang Punia (2018). Only last year he had won the junior world championship.
Sushil Kumar remains India’s only World Champion. He had won a gold in 2010 in Moscow.