Dark horse Dahiya storms into final as India assured of 4th Olympic medal; Neeraj impresses in qualification
While Ravi Dahiya will fight for gold on Thursday, Neeraj Chopra will stake his claim for India's maiden track-and-field Olympic medal on Saturday
Ravi Dahiya's charge into the final assured India of a fourth Olympic medal as wrestlers sent the country's hopes soaring, while javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra turned on the style to script history in qualification itself on a day when most things went spectacularly well for the contingent save for the heartbreak in hockey and boxing.
While Dahiya will fight for gold on Thursday, Chopra will stake his claim for India's maiden track-and-field Olympic medal on Saturday.
The Panipat lad etched his name in history books in the qualification round itself when he became the first javelin thrower to qualify for the Olympic finals and also the first to top the charts with an impressive 86.65m effort.
But it was another 23-year-old, Dahiya, who emerged as the undisputed star of the day.
The son of a farmer from Haryana's Nahri village, who is competing in his maiden Olympic Games in the 57kg category, first outclassed Colombia's Tigreros Urbano (13-2) in his opener and then outwitted Bulgaria's Georgi Valentinov Vangelov (14-4).
In his semifinal clash against Kazakhstan's Nurislam Sanayev, he conceded the lead but bounced back like a seasoned professional to march into the finals, becoming only the second wrestler after double Olympic-medallist Sushil Kumar to achieve the feat.
He will be up against reigning world champion Zavur Uguev of Russia to whom he lost in the 2019 World Championship semifinals.
"I had no business conceding that much lead against Sanayev. I am not happy with it," the usually reticent Dahiya told PTI after his impressive performance.
"I still have some unfinished business to do. I came with a target here and that is not complete yet (winning gold)."
Others in medal contention are Deepak Punia (86kg) and Anshu Malik (women's 57kg). While Punia lost in the semifinals to get a direct entry into the bronze-medal playoffs, Malik has made the repechage round after European champion Irina Kurachikina, who beat her in the opening round, made the finals.
On the golf course, Aditi Ashok got off to a brilliant start, carding a four-under 67 in the opening round for a share of the second spot at the Kasumigaseki Country Club.
India's other entrant in the field, Diksha Dagar (76), however, had a rough start in her maiden Olympics as she had five bogeys and no birdies to lie at the tied 56th spot.
After being the stars of India's Olympic campaign so far, the women had to endure disappointment but all was not lost.
The Rani Rampal-led hockey team lost 1-2 to Argentina in the semifinals but stayed in the hunt for a medal. The courageous bunch, which has exceeded all expectations by coming this far, will play Great Britain on Friday for a bronze medal.
The Indians fought valiantly and gave Argentina a run for their money by taking the lead in the second minute through a penalty corner conversion by Gurjit Kaur.
But the Las Leonas bounced back strongly with skipper Maria Barrionuevo's (18th, 36th minutes) twin strikes from penalty corners to secure the hard-fought win.
"We came here to win a medal and still there's one (available). It's now about recovery, about the mindset. The good thing is, it's not always good that we lost a lot in the past but we also have learned to deal with the losses," the team's Dutch coach Sjoerd Marijne said after the match.
In the boxing ring Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) signed off with a bronze medal after her showdown against reigning world champion Busenaz Surmeneli of Turkey ended in a crushing 0-5 loss.
Borgohain became the third Indian boxer to fetch a Games medal after Vijender Singh (2008) and M C Mary Kom (2012).
"I worked hard for a gold medal so it is a bit disappointing," Borgohain said after the bout, in which she was docked a point for not paying attention to the referee's instructions and also endured two standing eight counts.
On Thursday, the men's hockey team will eye a bronze medal, its first podium finish in 41 years, when it takes on Germany in the third-place playoff.
On the wrestling mat, aside from Dahiya, Malik and Punia fighting for medals, superstar Vinesh Phogat (53kg) will look to make amends for the injury-forced heartbreak in the Rio Games five years back.
The top medal contender will open her campaign against Sofia Magdalena Mattsson of Sweden.