Kakran clinches 2nd Asian gold with match to spare as Vinesh, Malik make finals
Friday, April 16, 2021 - 10:23 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
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.
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