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#WrestleAlmaty

Zorigt thwarts Indian gold rush as Tynybekova rues missing rivals in regaining 62kg title

By Ken Marantz

Bolortungalag ZORIGT (MGL) stopped an Indian gold rush on the final day of the women's competition at the Asian Championships with a stunning victory at 65kg on Friday that propelled Mongolia to victory in the team standings.

Zorigt, a three-time bronze medalist, moved to the top of the podium for the first time and denied Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi MALIK (IND) her first-ever Asian gold with a first-period fall in the final at Almaty's Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports.

Even with India getting gold medals from Vinesh VINESH (IND) at 50kg, Anshu ANSHU (IND) at 57kg and Divya KAKRAN (IND) at 68kg, Zorigt's victory proved the difference as Mongolia edged India for the team title, 173 points to 168. A gold is worth 25 points and a silver 20.

"I didn’t know that we can be champions because of my gold medal," said Zorigt, who was noticeably smiling beneath her mask as she received her well-earned gold during the medal ceremony in the crowdless arena. "Now I know and I can’t explain how happy I am."

Host Kazakhstan, which picked up a silver and two bronzes, finished third with 156 points.

World champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) captured the other gold at stake, cruising to victory at 62kg to regain the Asian title heading into the Tokyo Olympics and later acknowledging that the absence of her top rivals from the tournament took the luster off winning a fourth career gold.

Zorigt's victory showed just how quickly and wildly the tide can change in this sport. Zorigt had just worked out of a single leg attempt and, as the two came face to face, caught Malik with lightning-quick headlock throw to her back.

As Malik squirmed to break the grip and get loose, Zorigt abandonded the hold and flipped over to go chest-to-chest, and that was it for the Indian with the match ending at 1:51.

"It was a good final and the move is one of my favorites and I have used that before," Zorigt said. "It’s like my go-to move."

For Malik, the loss relegated her to a second straight silver medal and third overall, giving her a total of six Asian medals without a gold.

If any tournament was the one to finally strike gold, this was it, as powerhouses China and Japan, as well as the Democratic Republic of Korea, did not participate for pandemic-related reasons.

Vinesh and Anshu seized the opportunity by winning their maiden golds.

Vinesh, coming off a victory at last month's Matteo Pellicone tournament, made her eighth Asian medal a gold with a solid victory by fall over Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE) in the 53kg final.

Leading 4-0, Vinesh ran down a retreating Hsiech and bulled her to her back to end the match at 2:21.

"Everyone knows this is an Olympic year and it’s already my third competition so I am feeling good," said Vinesh, who earned a berth at the Tokyo Olympics by winning a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan.

"I have participated in, I think, eight Asian championships, and for the first time I am winning a gold medal. I had waited for this moment."

Inspired by her senior compatriot's victory, the 19-year-old Anshu relegated Battsetseg ALTANTSETSEG (MGL) to a silver medal for the third year in a row by scraping together a 3-0 victory in the 57kg final.

"Vinesh won a gold, then you also feel like winning it because one needs to understand the feeling of being a champion," Anshu said.

Anshu scored all of her points in the first period, notching an early takedown with a snap down and spin behind before adding a stepout. That was it for the scoring, as neither wrestler could penetrate the other's defenses.

"In the final, I was not looking to attack much because I had wrestled the same girl before," said Anshu, who defeated Altantsetseg in a round-robin group match earlier in the day.

Altantsetseg had finished second at 59kg in both 2019 and 2020. She also won a bronze at 57kg in 2018, a year after winning a silver at the world U-23.

Anshu's victory came in the wake of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics at the Asian Olympic qualifier held at the same venue last week, which led her to play it safe as she was also nursing injuries that caused her to default in Rome last month.

"I had a knee problem," she said. "The hamstring is also not good right now. I have been struggling with it since last month. So I just thought to not push much."

Despite the wear and tear, Anshu said she was able to wrestle relaxed, with the pressure of Olympic qualifying no longer a burden.

"In the qualifiers, my body was not responding nicely as there was a lot of travel fatigue and the weight cut was not planned," she said. "It was a tough week.

"In the championship, I was much more relaxed and I was wrestling freely. There was no pressure of qualifying for the Olympics as well. My father had advised me to wrestle how I wrestle in practice," she added.

Missing her absent rivals

Tynybekova was in control throughout the 62kg final, in which she methodically piled up points against Dolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL) before scoring an 11-0 technical fall as time expired.

In the final, Tynybekova scored a stepout and a pair of takedowns in the first period. In the second, she used an unpenetrable defense to add to her tally, scoring four points on a pair of counter lifts after Khurelkuu shot in on a single leg, then nonchalantly ended it by scoring a 2-point exposure off a Khurelkuu takedown attempt as the clock ran out.

She later revealed that she had been battling an illness and was only operating at "30 percent" physical capacity.

"At the end of the last week I was ill and I had some problems with my throat," said Tynybekova, who will aim for the gold in Tokyo after finishing fifth at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

"For the last week, I could not train because of my illness. I began training only in Almaty and I think the result is better than my expectations. It could have been worse because my condition was not good."

But what Tynybekova acknowledged was just as debilitating was the absence of the Japanese and Chinese wrestlers -- which meant missing out an another possible clash with rival Yukako KAWAI (JPN), who had planned to be in Almaty to defend her title.

The Japanese women's team withdrew just before flying to Almaty after suspected exposure to someone infected with the coronavirus. The Chinese could not participate because they had to undergo coronavirus testing arranged by the Chinese embassy.

"Before the Asian Championships, we were preparing for the bouts against Japan and China," she said. "They are the best and we had only them in mind. To be honest, this doesn't feel like the Asian Championships without them. It is only like some international tournament for Asian teams.

"The emotions are not the same when they are not here. When I go to the mat, I know can beat them, so the emotions are not that strong as they would have been against Japan and China. None of the opponents were as strong as those countries and it was not that enjoyable for me to wrestle."

AIsuluu Tynybekova

Kakran, who had already clinched the 72kg title after winning her first two matches in the early session, capped her run to the top of the medal podium with a quick and creative victory by fall over Sujin PARK (KOR) in their final round-robin match.

Kakran used a barrel roll to flip Park onto her back, then kept her back to Park's chest while keeping an arm locked to secure the fall in just 27 seconds. The 2020 champion at 68kg, Kakran became the second two-time Asian women's champion in Indian history -- a day after SARITA (IND) became the first with a victory at 57kg.

Following Kakran's win, dethroned defending champion Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) won a battle for the silver medal with a 9-2 victory over Tsevegmed ENKHBAYAR (MGL), who will take home the bronze medal.

It was a less-dominant repeat of Bakbergenova's 10-0 win over the Mongolian in the semifinals at last year's Asian Championships en route to the gold.

Altynay SATYLGAN (KAZ) picked up her second straight Asian bronze medal when she scored with a counter and a takedown in the second period for a 4-1 victory over Shinhye LEE (KOR) at 57kg.

Rushana ABDIRASULOVA (UZB) pulled a rabbit out of the hat to claim the 62kg bronze, using an underhook throw with a minute to go to flip over Irina KUZNETSOVA (KAZ) for 4 points and a 4-4 victory on criteria.

At 65kg, Hanbit LEE (KOR) added to the bronze she won in 2018 by beating Hsin Ping PAI (TPE) 6-1, while Assylzat SAGYMBAY (KAZ) won the 53kg bronze by default.

Next up on the schedule is freestyle, with competition Saturday in the 57kg, 65kg, 70kg, 79kg and 97kg weight classes. The finalists from two weight classes -- Ravi KUMAR (IND) and Hikmatullo VOKHIDOV (TJK) at 57kg and fierce rivals Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and Bajrang PUNIA (IND) at 65kg -- are entered this year and in opposite brackets, meaning potential clashes for the title again.

Day 4 Results Women's Wrestling

Finals

53kg (6 entries)
GOLD - Vinesh VINESH (IND) df. Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE) by Fall, 2:21 (6-0)
BRONZE - Assylzat SAGYMBAY (KAZ) df. Hyunyoung OH (KOR) by Default

57kg (7 entries)
GOLD - Anshu ANSHU (IND) df. Battsetseg ALTANTSETSEG (MGL), 3-0
BRONZE - Altynay SATYLGAN (KAZ) df. Shinhye LEE (KOR), 4-1

62kg (7 entries)
GOLD - Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) df. Dolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL) by TF, 11-0, 6:00
BRONZE - Rushana ABDIRASULOVA (UZB) df. Irina KUZNETSOVA (KAZ), 4-4

65kg (6 entries)
GOLD - Bolortungalag ZORIGT (MGL) df. Sakshi MALIK (IND) by Fall, 1:51 (4-0)
BRONZE - Hanbit LEE (KOR) df. Hsin Ping PAI (TPE), 6-1

72kg (4 entries)
GOLD - Divya KAKRAN (IND) 3-0
SILVER - Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) 2-1
BRONZE - Tsevegmed ENKHBAYAR (MGL) 1-1
Key match: Divya KAKRAN (IND) df. Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ), 8-5, in Round 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