Bajrang Punia won the 65kg freestyle gold medal by beating USA's Jordan Oliver 12-3 in the final. (Image credit: Bajrang Punia Twitter)
India's star wrestler Bajrang Punia has won the gold medal at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov tournament in Ruse, Bulgaria and dedicated the victory to Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Punia, a World Championship silver medallist, overpowered Jordan Oliver of USA 12-3 in the 65kg freestyle final to begin the season on a resounding note in the Bulgarian city. The Indian also secured the maximum ranking points from the tournament. "I want to dedicate my gold to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He has inspired me. I want to meet him one day and also shake hands with him," Punia tweeted after his victory.
The IAF pilot Varthaman returned to India from captivity in Pakistan on Friday night after a suspenseful wait lasting hours, which is being seen as a major step towards defusing a near-war situation triggered by India's retaliation following the Pulwama terror attack on February 14.
मैं अपना गोल्ड मेडल हमारे बहादुर वायु योद्धा #WingCommandorAbhinandan को समर्पित करना चाहता हूं। उन्होंने मुझे बहुत प्रेरणा दी और मुझमें जोश भर दिया। मैं किसी दिन उनसे मिलकर उनसे हाथ मिलाना चाहता हूं।— Bajrang Punia (@BajrangPunia) March 2, 2019
🇮🇳 जय हिन्द जय भारत 🇮🇳👏 pic.twitter.com/Ww54FKt1VU
Punia, who bagged the top prize at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games last year, has won four gold medals and one silver in the last five tournaments. This was Punia's 10th medal in as many international tournaments since failing to finish at the podium in the 2017 World Championships in Paris.
Earlier, Pooja Dhanda claimed the gold in 59 kg while Sakshi Malik secured silver in 65 kg women's freestyle. In the men's freestyle events, Sandeep Tomar had to be content with a silver in 61kg.
India may add to their gold tally as Vinesh Phogat is scheduled to play her final in the 53kg against China's Qianyu Pang of China. Vinesh beat World Championships silver medallist Sarah Hildebrandt in the semifinals on Saturday. This is Vinesh's first tournament since moving to 53kg from 50kg.
Sarita Mor won a silver in women's 59kg though she lost to her compatriot Dhanda.