India had managed a grand total of one gold in the previous edition of the Senior Asian Wrestling Championship. On Tuesday, Sunil Kumar ensured there won’t be any less this time around, opening the gold tally for the host with a 5-0 win in the 87kg final against Azat Salidinov of Kyrgyzstan.
It was not just an improvement on Sunil’s own silver-winning performance in 2019 but also India’s first Greco-Roman gold in the competition after 27 years. The last time it happened was in 1993, when Pappu Yadav won the 48kg title.
“It feels great to better your own performance and change the medal colour from silver to gold. I have worked a lot on my ground wrestling techniques in the last one year and improved my defence. That helped me today,” Sunil said after the bout at the KD Jadhav Indoor Stadium.
National coach Hargobind Singh hoped the win would help bring more focus on Greco-Roman, often reduced to shadows against the more popular freestyle category.
In the 55kg, 21-year old Arjun Halakurki won bronze with a 7-4 win against Dong Hyeok Won of Korea. Leading 7-1 in his semifinal bout against 2018 Junior World Champion and eventual gold-medalist Pouya Mohammad Naserpour of Iran, Halakurki paid for his aggressive play to only go down 7-8 in the final few seconds.
“I played the way I have always done in junior and Under-23 levels but there is a big difference at the senior level. I have now learnt that you need to hold on and go a bit slow at this level. That is what the coaches also said after the semifinals and I tried to avoid my mistakes,” said the Karnataka wrestler from Bagalakote, competing in his maiden senior tournament.
Having won the U-23 and the senior national championships last year, Halakurki’s biggest disappointment was missing out on a promotion. “I had been promised a Naib Subedar rank if I reached the final here. But now I will have to wait,” he said.