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#WrestleAlmaty

Sarita Defends 59kg Crown to Become India's 1st Two-Time Asian Women's Champion

By Ken Marantz

Sarita SARITA (IND) became the first Indian woman in history to win a second Asian gold medal when she defeated an opponent who had beaten her earlier in the day.

And she did it after coming back from a five-point hole.

Sarita defended her 59kg crown by rallying to a 10-7 victory in the final Thursday night over two-time world bronze medalist Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL) on the third day of the six-day Asian Championships in Almaty.

"I had won the gold medal in 59 in Delhi and I am the first Indian to defend my title," said Sarita, who turns 26 on Friday. "Last year as well, I had beaten a Mongolian wrestler and now also I did the same. To get my country's flag on the top in a foreign country is the proudest moment."

With the women's tournament at the spectator-less Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports missing powerhouses Japan and China, limited entries means all weight classes are conducted in round-robin formats.

Sarita and Baatarjav were drawn in the same group, with the Mongolian winning their first encounter 5-4 before they set up the rematch in the final with one-sided wins in the semifinals.

Sarita was familiar with Baatarjav even before the afternoon match. The Mongolian had beaten her 10-0 in the quarterfinals at the 2018 World Championships en route to the first of consecutive bronze medals.

"I had that in mind, but I also wanted to win the gold medal for myself and India," Sarita said.

In the final, Sarita scored with a stepout before Baatarjav replied with a double-leg takedown for a 2-0 lead. Early in the second period, Baatarjav launched a hip throw at the edge that was awarded 2 points and was challenged by the Indian side -- only to have the points revised to 4, with a lost-challenge point added, to give the Mongolian a 7-2 lead.

"When she scored a 4-pointer, I thought that's big," Sarita said. "I don't think it was 4. But it was okay, and I thought I have to cover that if I want to win.

"Even in the morning I had thought that I have to wrestle hard for six minutes if I want to win. There is nothing left once the bout finishes. I had to keep wrestling."

Undaunted, Sarita closed the gap with a takedown and 2-point tilt. As the end of the match neared, Sarita caught Baatarjav with a back trip for 4 with :15 left to go ahead. An unsuccessful challenge finalized the score at 10-7.

Heading into the final, Sarita said she brainstormed with her coaches to come up with a strategy to finally vanquish her nemesis.

"I learned about her weak areas and my mistakes after [the first] bout and the coaches had a word with me to correct all that," Sarita said. "We had to improve certain things and attack in a different manner. I did all that and won."

In other action, world bronze medalist Valentina ISLAMOVA BRIK (KAZ) made the most of the missing East Asians by storming to her first Asian gold with a 10-0 technical fall in the 50kg final over Jasmina IMMAEVA (UZB).

The Russian-born Islamova Brik, who secured a berth at the Tokyo Olympics with her third-place finish at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan, scored an early takedown, then clamped down countering an arm throw attempt by Immaeva and rolled her back-and-forth four times to end the match in 1:43.

"I am feeling wonderful because this is the first time I became the Asian champion, and at home, too, so it's exciting," said the 29-year-old Islamova Brik, the mother of a 7-year-old son who won consecutive Asian bronzes in 2019 and 2020.

"Before the final, I was very nervous because I was under pressure to wrestle at home and win here. Thankfully I did it. This medal I will celebrate with my husband who is also my coach."

Asked which she treasures more, her world bronze or newly won Asian gold, Islamova Brik replied, "Both medals are very important and I can't answer that question. But if I had to choose one, it will be world bronze because it gave me a chance to go to Olympics."

Two wrestlers who earned Tokyo Olympic spots at the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament, which preceded the Asian Championships at the same venue, both made it to the finals, but only one joined Greco-Roman star Hansu RYU (KOR) by achieving an Almaty double and adding the Asian gold.

Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ), who secured a ticket to Tokyo at 68kg, added the Asian senior title to three golds she won on the junior level by calmly defeating Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL) 6-1 in the final.

"Many people have told me that I am always relaxed and don't feel any emotions," Zhumanazarova said. "My coach is a very relaxed person, so maybe I copy him and am relaxed as well. When I am going for something big, I always try to be relaxed and not worry."

Zhumanazarova, a 2019 world junior champion, had a 1-0 lead when she was put on the activity clock. But she kept her composure and scored a lift-and-drop takedown, then padded her lead with a second takedown and a stepout.

Any celebrating, however, is on hold for now.

"For me, it's the mat and then we eat and sleep, and that's all. I don't do anything else," Zhumanazarova said. "There is no party or anything until I win the Olympics gold. That's my main goal.

"Yes, there are strong opponents in 68kg, but in sports, anything can happen and we have seen it in history that any strong sportsperson can lose. I think anyone who is in strong physical form will win in Olympics."

Olympic qualifier Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ)  saw her bid for an Almaty double at 76kg quashed when Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) used the move-of-the-day to score a victory by fall in the final.

Medet Kyzy had Syzdykova's leg in the air when the Kazakh suddenly jumped and kicked out a leg while rolling back, which flipped Medet Kyzy onto her back. Syzdykova then clamped down for a fall in 1:48.

"The final was a tough bout as I had only three weeks of training and we were helping the Kazakhstan team to qualify for Olympics," Syzdykova said. "But my coach said that we have to go for it and win. I was wrestling only tactically and next time I’ll do better."

For Syzdykova, the victory avenged a 6-1 loss to Medet Kyzy in the group stage, and gave her a first gold among six career Asian medals. It was also her first major title since moving up to 76kg in 2018.

"I won the Olympic medal at 69, but now cutting the weight is not good for me so I changed," she said. "I have been wrestling for 16 years and I don’t know what else to do. I love it."

Dulguun MUNKHBOLD (MGL), who had already clinched the 55kg title with a pair of falls in the afternoon session, capped her run to a first Asian gold with a third pin, decking Hyungjoo KIM (KOR) at 2:41 after leading 5-0.

Munkhbold, in progressing from Asian bronze medalist in 2019 and silver medalist last year, sprawled at the edge to counter a Kim tackle, then reversed gears and bulled her onto her back.

With that result, the final match of the 55kg round-robin suddenly became a showdown for the silver and bronze medals, and Madina USMONJONOVA (UZB) came away with the glitzier hardware.

Usmonjonova twice stuffed a front headlock throw attempt by Aisha UALISHAN (KAZ), and clamped down after the second one to secure a fall with :36 left in the match and a 4-1 lead.

India came away with two bronze medals, with Seema SEEMA (IND) winning at 50kg -- the day after turning 29 -- with a 10-0 technical fall over Yung Hsun LIN (TPE), and Pooja POOJA (IND) beating Seoyeon JEONG (KOR) 5-2 at 76kg in a repeat of their match at the Asian Olympic qualifier, where neither finished in the top two.

Nine years after winning an Asian junior bronze, Eun Sun JEONG (KOR) earned a senior one with a 7-2 win at 68kg over Azoda ESBERGENOVA (UZB).

Nuraida ANARKULOVA (KGZ), a 2019 world junior bronze medalist, took the 59kg bronze by beating Dilfuza AIMBETOVA (UZB) 7-0.

The women's tournament finishes up Friday with competition in the 53kg, 57kg, 62kg, 65kg and 72kg divisions.

The day will see a clash between reigning champions, as Divya KAKRAN (IND), the 2020 champion at 68kg, has moved up to 72kg and is looking to dethrone Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ). The two will face each other in the second round of the four-woman round-robin.

Day 3 Finals

Women's Wrestling

50kg (6 entries)
GOLD - Valentina ISLAMOVA BRIK (KAZ) df. Jasmina IMMAEVA (UZB) by TF, 10-0, 1:43
BRONZE - Seema SEEMA (IND) df. Yung Hsun LIN (TPE) by TF, 10-0, 2:17

55kg (4 entries)
GOLD - Dulguun MUNKHBOLD (MGL), 3-0
SILVER - Madina USMONJONOVA (UZB), 2-1
BRONZE - Aisha UALISHAN (KAZ), 1-2
Key match: Dulguun MUNKHBOLD (MGL) df. Madina USMONJONOVA (UZB) by Fall, 5:23 (14-0) in Round 1

59kg (6 entries)
GOLD - Sarita SARITA (IND) df. Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL), 10-7
BRONZE - Nuraida ANARKULOVA (KGZ) df. Dilfuza AIMBETOVA (UZB), 7-0

68kg (6 entries)
GOLD - Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ) df. Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL), 6-1
BRONZE - Eun Sun JEONG (KOR) df. Azoda ESBERGENOVA (UZB), 7-2

76kg (6 entries)
GOLD - Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) df. Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) by Fall, 1:48 (4-0)
BRONZE - Pooja POOJA (IND) df. Seoyeon JEONG (KOR), 5-2

#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