INDIA’s Star wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Pooja Dhanda have wrested gold medals in freestyle wrestling at the Dan Kolov-Nikol Petrov Ranking Series in Bulgaria. While Bajrang Punia defeated Jordan Oliver of the US in the men’s 65 kg final on Saturday night, Pooja Dhanda finished undefeated in the women’s 59kg category .Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik clinched a silver medal after losing the women’s 65kg final bout to Henna Johansson of Sweden. Following his win, Bajrang Punia said: “I dedicate this medal to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He has been an inspiration. Someday I would like to meet and shake his hands.” He has tweeted after winning the gol medal. After being 0-3 down, Punia stepped on the gas and won 12 straight points to clinch the gold against his American opponent. Facing Johansson of Sweden, Malik was beaten to the gold medal by a 3-8 margin. Besides the silver medal, Malik will also take back some confidence after beating reigning World and European Champion Petra Olli of Finland in the semis. 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.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 won silver in 65 kg women’s freestyle. In the men’s freestyle events, Sandeep Tomar had to be content with 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 semi-finals on Saturday. Vinesh Phogat feels elated at being nominated for the prestigious Laureus Award (with DD Sports).
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