Asian Games 2018, Day 1

‘Nerveless’ Bajrang Punia wins gold; Shooters Apurvi Chandela, Ravi Kumar clinch bronze

Hearts were in the mouth but 65kg class freestyle wrestler, Bajrang Punia held his nerve and achieved closure winning India their first gold in the Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta on a day that had started with the 10m air rifle shooting mixed pair of Apurvi Chandela and Ravi Kumar landing a bronze medal 700km away in Palembang.

If only medals are the yardstick, then the two medals won on Sunday may be disappointing but there were many heartwarming performances as well. Take, for instance, swimmers Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj making it to the final of their respective events on Sunday Or the fact that double sculls rowers Om Prakash and Sawarn Singh Virk earning a place in the final.

To be sure, it was a pity that Anjul Namdeo had to endure a heartbreak in the men’s Wushu Changquan final, finishing fifth after appearing to be in with a chance of getting to the podium. He scored 9.66, including 5.00 for overall quality of management and 2.00 for degree of difficulty. He lost out on being in the medal bracket since he was scored 2.66 for overall performance.

Yet, Bajrang’s stellar fight against Japan’s Daichi Takatani for the gold medal ensured that India would rise in the medal’s charts at the end on the opening day of competition. He will remember the Asian Games as a key milestone in his career in which he promises to end India’s quest for an Olympic Games gold in 2020.

Apurvi Chandela and Ravi Kumar claimed India’s first medal of the Games with a bronze in the 10m air rifle mixed pair event behind Chinese Taipei and China’s combinations. The Indians were in line for a better medal much of the time, shooting consistently in the final. But a couple of poor shots after a medal was assured saw them settle for bronze.

With a splendid spurt after the first 30 shots, Chinese Ruozhu Zhao, 20, and Haoran Yang, 22, quietly leapfrogged over the Korean and Indian pairs to take silver behind Chinese Taipei’s Yingshin Lin, 19, and Shaochuan Lu, 21. The Koreans, early leaders, fell away to be the second team to be eliminated after Mongolia in the five-pair final.

There were a couple of National records in the swimming pool, first by 17-year-old Srihari Nataraj who reclaimed the mark with 55.86 seconds in the 100m backstroke heats he was to finish seventh in the final and Sajan Prakash topping his own 200m butterfly record with a 1:57.75 time when placing fifth in the final.

India missed out on having the 10m air pistol team in the final as well. The teenaged Manu Bhaker (378) and Abhishek Verma (381) tallied 759 points, the same as the Kazakhstan pair of Zauresh Baibussinova (377) and Vladimir Issachenko (382). The Indians missed out on qualification since the Kazakhs had shot as many as 25 10s in the final to their own 15.

There was some talk about Bhaker putting her foot down and insisting on being part of the mixed pair competition but, to her credit, she shot four more 10s in the final than Abhishek Verma. To be fair to the Kazakhs, they had built a good enough position for themselves in the first three series.

The trap shooters have given a fairly good account of themselves in the three rounds of shooting on Sunday. In the men’s event, 41-year-old Manavjit Singh Sandhu shot 72 and 19-year-old Lakshya 71 to be in the race to qualify for the final while Shreyasi Singh (72) and Seema Tomar (71) are second and fourth respectively in the women’s competition.

Earlier, there was great disappointment for the Indians in the stands at the Assembly Hall in Jakarta Convention Centre where the Sushil Kumar, a two-time Olympic medallist, went down rather tamely to Bahrain’s Adam Batirov. The Indian legend opened up a 2-0 lead but paid the price for being slower and waiting for the Russian-born to make mistakes.

Sandeep Tomar won a round in the 57kg class but lost in the quarterfinals like Pawan Kumar (86kg) and Mausam Khatri (97kg class). Pawan was given a lifeline through the repechage but lost his bronze medal bout with Mongolia’s Uitmen Orgodol, leaving Bajrang to hold India’s banner aloft in the wrestling arena.

The badminton men’s team had an easy time against the Maldives, winning 3-0 to set up a quarterfinal clash with home team Indonesia. Kidambi Srikanth showed the way with a 19-minute demolition of Hussein Zayan Shaheed Zaki. HS Prannoy and Sai Praneeth followed suit, spending only a few more minutes each on court.

The Indian women’s hockey team expected to be in the race for gold toyed with the home side, Indonesia, in an 8-0 victory in their opening group B match. Gurjit Kaur scored three penalty corner goals, Vandana Katariya and Navneet Kaur scored two goals each while Udita scored one to give the Indian contingent reason for cheer at the fag end of the day.

Similarly, the kabaddi teams opened with victories, the women beating Japan 43-12 and the men posting a 50-21 win against Bangladesh.

The women’s basketball team experienced it second successive defeat in group A, this time an 84-61 reverse at the hands of Chinese Taipei. The Indians had run the pool leader close in the first half when the score was 28-33 but found their rival side change gears in the third quarter to open up a sizable gap.

With the women’s wrestlers taking centerstage on Monday and the trap shooters promising much with their performance on Sunday, India can expect to pick up more medals. It would be wonderful if Manavjit, the vastly experienced shot gun ace whose maiden Asian Games appearance came back in 1998, can pick up that elusive gold.

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