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#WrestleAlmaty

Kakran clinches 2nd Asian gold with match to spare as Vinesh, Malik make finals

By Ken Marantz

One day after India got its first-ever two-time women's champion at the Asian Championships, Divya KAKRAN (IND) became the second by clinching the 65kg title with a match to spare, while high-profile compatriots VINESH (IND) and Sakshi MALIK (IND) moved closer to elusive first Asian golds.

Kakran, the 68kg champion a year ago in New Delhi, won both of her round-robin matches in the early session -- including an 8-5 victory over defending champion Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) -- to assure she would come away with the gold regardless of the outcome of her final match in the night session on Friday in Almaty.

"Until I wrestle the final bout, I won’t consider myself the champion," Kakran said. "As they say, never underestimate your rival."

The absence of powerhouses Japan and China from the competition at the spectator-less Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports has not only created better medal opportunities for their continental neighbors, but necessitated a round-robin group format for all women's weight classes due to the reduced entries. The 65kg division has just four participants.

In addition to Kakran's gold, India has a chance to come away with three of the four other titles at stake on the final day of the women's competition, to follow up on the victory on Thursday at 59kg by SARITA (IND) that made her the nation's first two-time champion.

Vinesh, who has amassed a collection of seven Asian medals, will try to finally strike gold when she faces Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE) in the 53kg final, while Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Malik will try to make her sixth career Asian medal a first gold in the 65kg final against 2020 Asian bronze medalist Bolortungalag ZORIGT (MGL).

"The main aim was to wrestle the Japan and China wrestlers, but they are not here," Vinesh said. "It's not in my hands. If there is a gold medal on the offering, I will take it."

India has another finalist in 2020 bronze medalist ANSHU (IND) at 57kg, where she will try to follow up securing one of the two spots available at the Asian Olympic qualifier held at the same venue April 9-11.

In fact, India might have had a shot at a sweep of the day's five golds, but rising star Sonam SONAM (IND), who also qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, had to default her matches at 62kg due to a knee injury suffered last week.

That prevented what would have been an intriguing clash between her and world champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ), who stormed into the final with two technical falls and the default from Sonam, who defeated Malik in the Indian team trials to appear at the Olympic qualifier.

Kakran clinched the 72kg gold with victories over Bakbergenova and Tsevegmed ENKHBAYAR (MGL), who in turn had both defeated Kakran's final opponent Sujin PARK (KOR). Even if Kakran loses to finish 2-1 and tied with the winner of the other match, she will get the gold based on head-to-head results.

Kakran said she nearly passed up the chance to compete at Almaty after failing to earn a spot at the Asian Olympic qualifier at 68kg by losing out at the Indian trials, but relented upon parental advice. She was also concerned about a lack of match sharpness after having wrestled just once since last year's Asian Championships and having gone through a bout with Covid-19.

"I have not been wrestling well for sometime now," she said. "The trials in India were one of my worst performances. So I was not thinking of participating in 72kg, but my father asked me to.

"I was thinking that if I didn't wrestle good in 68kg, how will I win the trials in 72kg? But I managed to and I have wrestled well here. The difference here is that I am wrestling without pressure. In India, I am wrestling with a lot of expectations from myself."

In the likely de facto match for the gold against Bakbergenova, Kakran took a 4-3 lead into the second period, which she padded with a takedown. But the Kazakh cut the lead with a tackle for 2, only to see Kakran score 2 herself with a counter roll to clinch the 8-5 win.

"Wrestling here was very good," Kakran said. "I dominated all my bouts and the Kazak girl is very good. She has beaten Indian wrestlers before and she is the champion. She is wrestling at home so that gives her a lot of advantage."

Vinesh, who had earned a ticket to Tokyo by placing third at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan, had a walkover into the 53kg final when Hyunyoung OH (KOR) had to forfeit their semifinal match due to an injury suffered in her second match.

Vinesh, a bronze medalist last year in New Delhi, stormed into the semfinals with two technical fall victories, including a 12-2 romp over Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE) -- her opponent in the final.

"I learnt a lot of things despite the tough opponents not here," Vinesh said. "The most important part is the recovery. I think my recovery between the bouts is not the best right now.

"Also, I took this competition a little too easy so I was not following the correct process in the lead up to the tournament."

Vinesh said she has been having problems with low blood pressure, which she said affected her in last year's quarterfinal loss in New Delhi to Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN).

"Last year in Delhi during the Mukaida bout, the last one minute was little blurry," Vinesh said. "So I was thinking it will improve here, but I am still struggling with it."

Hsieh, who will try to beat the odds and Vinesh to become Chinese Taipei's first Asian champion since 1999, made the final with a nail-biting victory by fall over Assylzat SAGYMBAY (KAZ).

Hsieh had fallen behind 6-2 after Sagymbay scored consecutive takedowns in the final minute, but reversed the tide with a picture-perfect arm throw and secured the fall with :31 left.

"I was trying to fake her on both legs," Hsieh said. "Once the right leg, once the left and then I got the opportunity to do the arm throw which she was not ready for. I lost to Vinesh in the group stage, but I will try to wrestle better in the final."

Hsieh hopes to emulate her role model. "I like Yui SUSAKI (JPN) a lot," she said, referring to the two-time world champion at 50kg, "and maybe if I wrestle like her in the final, I win."

Standing in Malik's path is Bolortungalag ZORIGT (MGL), who last year won her third career Asian bronze medal and would like nothing better than to come away with a gold this time.

Malik, who posted two technical falls in the group stage, advanced when Hanbit LEE (KOR) defaulted due to a knee injury late in the first period with the Indian ahead 3-0. Zorigt chalked up her third straight fall by decking Hsin Ping PAI (TPE) at 2:10 while leading 8-0.

Anshu also has a rematch in the final, where she will face Battsetseg ALTANTSETSEG (MGL), last year's silver medalist at 57kg. In the group stage, Anshu was leading 9-1 when the Mongolian was disqualified with 2:18 to go after receiving a third caution for fleeing.

"Last year, I missed [the gold] in Delhi," Anshu said. "Now I have a chance to do it here. The Mongolian wrestler is actually a difficult one. I got my knee bumped in the first bout against her. Little uncomfortable in that."

In the Asian qualifier, Anshu secured a Tokyo spot by advancing to the final, where she lost to another Mongolian, Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL).

"My body is far better than it was in the qualifier," Anshu said. "I feel rested and the bouts have been smooth."

As expected, Tynybekova has been the dominant force at 62kg as she pursues a fourth Asian gold for her eighth medal overall. A victory by fall in the semifinal over Rushana ABDIRASULOVA (UZB) set up a gold-medal showdown with Dolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL), a 7-1 winner of Irina KUZNETSOVA (KAZ).

"I am just relaxed here," Tynybekova said. "My mind is only focused on the finals."

Day 4 Women's Wrestling Results

Semifinals

53kg (6 entries)
Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE) df. Assylzat SAGYMBAY (KAZ) by Fall, 5:28 (6-6)
Vinesh VINESH (IND) df. Hyunyoung OH (KOR) by Inj. Default

57kg (7 entries)
Anshu ANSHU (IND) df. Shinhye LEE (KOR) by Fall, 1:35 (2-2)
Battsetseg ALTANTSETSEG (MGL) df. Altynay SATYLGAN (KAZ) by Fall, 3:13 (10-1)

62kg (7 entries)
Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) df. Rushana ABDIRASULOVA (UZB) by Fall, 2:09 (8-2)
Dolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL) df. Irina KUZNETSOVA (KAZ), 7-1

65kg (6 entries)
Bolortungalag ZORIGT (MGL) df. Hsin Ping PAI (TPE) by Fall, 2:10 (8-0)
Sakshi MALIK (IND) df. Hanbit LEE (KOR) by Inj. Default, 2:12 (3-0)

72kg (4 entries)
Standings (after 2 rounds)
1. Divya KAKRAN (IND), 2-0; 2. Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) 1-1; 3. Tsevegmed
ENKHBAYAR (MGL), 1-1; Sujin PARK (KOR), 0-2
Kakran clinched gold medal.

#WrestleAlmaty

Yazdani Triumphs as Iran, Kazakhstan Score Double Golds at Asian C’Ships

By Ken Marantz

For superstar Hassan YAZDANI (IRI), the Asian Championships are just a stepping stone in preparing for his ultimate goal of winning a second straight Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. He rocked it anyway.

Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) proved once again he is in a class by himself, schooling Deepak PUNIA (IND) in their long-delayed first encounter to take the 86kg gold medal as the six-day tournament in Almaty concluded Sunday night with the last five finals in freestyle.

Yazdani, who won the gold in his only other Asian Championships appearance in 2018, was never in danger as he outclassed Punia with a 10-0 technical fall -- nearly two years after an inaugural meeting between them in the final at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan was aborted when the Indian defaulted due to injury.

Prior to Almaty, Yazdani had not competed in an individual tournament since the 2019 worlds, and wanted to get in some mat time prior to the Tokyo Olympics, where he will defend the title he won at Rio 2016.

"After the pandemic started, it was hard to compete," Yazdani said. "I thought I would compete in the World Cup for preparation, but I did not," he said, referring to the Individual World Cup held in December last year in lieu of a World Championships.

"The Asian Championships was a good event and I wanted to see my preparations and now I will continue to prepare for the Olympics as a wrestler who will win the gold medal. Only the gold."

After Punia defaulted at the Nursultan Worlds due to an ankle injury suffered earlier in the tournament, many speculated on what might have been, given Punia's impressive run to the final just a year after winning a silver medal at the World Junior Championships.

But Yazdani is not called "The Greatest" for no reason, and it would take raising to another level to catch him off his game. For Punia, who looked sluggish at times en route to the final in Almaty, this was not the day.

Yazdani basically put on a takedown clinic, scoring four as Punia was able to resist all but one gut wrench, after the third takedown. That gave Yazdani an 8-0 lead, and he ended the match with a great second effort on a takedown attempt.

Punia had wiggled out of a single-leg attempt, but Yazdani pursued him to the edge and gained control to make it 10-0 at 2:53 for his third technical fall in three matches.

Yazdani said he plans to compete again before Tokyo, although he did not specify what events.

"I will participate in some more competitions until the Olympics so that I can keep working on myself and my flaws," Yazdani said. "This is my preparation for the Olympics and to win the gold medal in Tokyo. That is what matters in the end."

Looking at the competition in Tokyo, Yazdani said he is not focusing on any certain opponent.

"All of the competitors are important because all of them are good and everybody comes to win," Yazdani said. "All of them are doing their best to win because it's a dream for all."But my American and Russian competitors are much more difficult, but I take all my competitors serious. I have to make a good program together with my coach and team to beat them."

Not surprisingly, Iran added the team freestyle title to its victory in Greco-Roman earlier in the tournament at the spectator-less Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports, amassing 179 points after winning three golds and eight medals overall.

India edged Kazakhstan for second place by just two points, 151 to 149, despite having just one gold to the host nation's three. With two silvers each, the main difference came down to four bronzes won by India, against none for Kazakhstan.

In the lone final pitting Iranian and Kazakh wrestlers, Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) kept the 74kg title in Kazakh hands and earned a second career Asian gold for himself by rallying to a 6-2 victory over Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI).

"It was a hard final and that is why I am very happy," Kaipanov said. "I was ill during my training. But thanks to my coaches, I could have great preparation for the Asian Championships. Coaches do many things that we athletes do not see."

Kaipanov, the 2019 world silver medalist and Asian champion at 70kg before moving up to the Olympic weight, trailed 2-0 going into the second period, but gained a takedown and an ankle roll to go ahead. He then added a takedown to clinch the victory.

"I did not like how I wrestled today," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to win the gold medal."

Kaipanov's victory followed the gold-medal run at 74kg last year in New Delhi by compatriot Daniar KAISANOV (KAZ), who finished third at the 2019 Nursultan worlds to earn an Olympic spot.

"Kaisanov is my rival and I have never wrestled him before, but in the future we will," Kaipanov said.

Hosseinkhani had to settle for a second straight bronze medal and third in four years, as the the 2016 world bronze medalist still seeks to add to the Asian titles he won in 2014 and 2016.

Iran's other gold came at 92kg, where Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) showed that while he might not be as well-known as Yazdani, he could be just as dominant by winning the gold with a third consecutive technical fall.

Ghasempour, the 2019 world U-23 and Asian champion at 86kg, stormed to a 10-0 victory in 2:09 over 2020 bronze medalist Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL), whose bid to become Mongolia's first Asian gold medalist in freestyle since 2015 never got off the ground.

Ghasempour overwhelmed Munkhbaatar with four aggressive takedowns, including a driving tackle for 4 points and powerful lift-and-dump with a single leg that ended the match.

"I feel good to win the medal," Ghasempour said. "In the future, I think I will go down a weight category. The final was very good for me because it is a weight category above my original."

Ghasempour said that dropping down a division will not create a national team clash. "Yazdani goes to the Olympics and I go to world championships," he said.

Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) capped the tournament by winning the final gold on tap for the host country with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ) in the 125kg final.

With the clock ticking down and Boltin trailing 3-2, he missed a golden opportunity to score went he arm-dragged Lazarev by, but couldn't finish it off and get behind.

But with Lazarev still on his knees, Boltin pressed him down to the mat as the Kyrgyzstani reached out and grabbed a leg. From there, Boltin secured a cradle and twisted him over for 2 points with :15 left.

"The final was not easy because my opponent was good and experienced," Boltin said. "I needed to wrestle till the end to win. I wanted to make everyone happy with this medal."

As at 74kg, Boltin kept the 125kg title in Kazakhstan's possession, as it followed the victory last year in New Delhi by Yusup BATIRMURZAEV (KAZ), who clinched an Olympic spot by winning the Asian qualifier held last week in the same venue.

"The 125kg category at the Olympics is very competitive as the level of competitors is very high," Boltin said. "There are a lot of strong wrestlers.

"Yusup won [the Asian gold] last year and I won this year. He is a good wrestler."

Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) picked up the first gold of the night when he roared back from four points down to defeat Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ) 14-9 in the 61kg final.

"I had good preparation and I was ready to wrestle anyone," Turobov said. "I always believed that I would be the champion even before coming here. The opponent in the final was stronger than me, but I had really good preparation and I am actually the champion and go back as one."

Turobov, a 2017 Asian junior champion, erased a 6-2 deficit in the second period when he scored a takedown and a pair of 2-point tilts to take a lead that he never surrendered against Askarov, a world U-23 silver medalist and junior bronze medalist in 2019.

Even without a crowd in the stands, Turobov said he felt pressure facing a Kazakh wrestler in Almaty as he won what he called the biggest medal of his career. Now he is aiming higher.

"I want to be the world champion and go to the next Olympics and take a gold medal," he said.

Iraq ends three-decade medal drought

In the bronze-medal matches, Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) became the first Iraqi since 1987 to win an Asian medal and the fourth overall when he notched a stunning and creative victory by fall at 86kg over Hayato ISHIGURO (JPN).

Ishiguro, a 2018 world junior champion, opened the scoring with a stepout, and seemed to be in no danger when he stopped a tackle attempt by Al Obaidi. But the Iraqi locked onto Ishiguro's arms, twisted him over and, with his back to the Japanese's chest, pressed him down for a fall in 1:06.

Just as odd was what happened moments later as Al Obaidi celebrated his historic victory. After raising a fist, he suddenly went from ecstasy to agony and dropped to the mat, clutching his left hamstring in pain. He had to be carried off the mat, but was able to walk on his own for the medal ceremony.

Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB) earned his fifth career Asian medal dating back to 2010 with a workmanlike 5-0 victory over Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM) at 74kg.

Navruzov, the Asian champion at 70kg in 2018, had lost a close 5-2 decision to Hosseinkhani in his opening match. He said he is aiming at getting back to the Olympics, after compatriot Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB) secured a Tokyo spot for Uzbekistan at last week's Asian Olympic qualifier.

"I have been off the mat for some time because of COVID," Navruzov said. "But I have been training now and will wrestle at 74kg. I will also have a trial with Bekzod to decide who goes to the Olympics."

Sanjeet KUNDU (IND), who placed third at the 2019 world U-23 in Greco-Roman, earned his first senior freestyle medal by holding on for an 11-8 win over Rustam SHODIEV (UZB) at 92kg. Kundu had led 11-2 with just over two minutes left.

A silver medalist last year, Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) had to settle for bronze this time after rolling to a 10-0 technical fall over Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB) at 125kg. It is the sixth career Asian medal for Dorjkhand, who won his lone title in 2014.

Korea won two bronze medals through Gwanuk KIM (KOR) at 86kg and Hyeokbeom GWON (KOR) at 92kg. The other bronzes were won by: Shoya SHIMAE (JPN) and Ikromzhon KHADZHIMURODOV (KGZ) at 61kg, Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) at 74kg, and Amin TAHERI (IRI) at 125kg.

Day 6 Results Freestyle

Finals

61kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) df. Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ), 14-9
BRONZE - Shoya SHIMAE (JPN) df. Sunggwon KIM (KOR), 5-1
BRONZE - Ikromzhon KHADZHIMURODOV (KGZ) df. Ravinder DAHIYA (IND) by TF, 14-4,
5:44

74kg (13 entries)
GOLD - Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) df. Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI), 6-2
BRONZE - Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) df. Mansur SYRGAK UULU (KGZ), 4-1
BRONZE - Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB) df. Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM), 5-0

86kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) df. Deepak PUNIA (IND) by TF, 10-0, 2:53
BRONZE - Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) df. Hayato ISHIGURO (JPN) by Fall, 1:07 (2-1)
BRONZE - Gwanuk KIM (KOR) df. Bakhodur KODIROV (TJK) by TF, 10-0, 2:09

92kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) df. Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL) by TF, 10-0,
2:09
BRONZE - Hyeokbeom GWON (KOR) df. Elkhan ASSADOV (KAZ), 1-1
BRONZE - Sanjeet KUNDU (IND) df. Rustam SHODIEV (UZB), 11-8

125kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) df. Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ), 4-3
BRONZE - Amin TAHERI (IRI) df. Donghwan KIM (KOR) by Fall, 2:28 (10-0)
BRONZE - Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) df. Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB) by TF, 10-0,
3:55