Haryana wrestler Deepak Punia clinched gold in the 86kg category event at the Junior World Championships, ending a 18-year-drought for India at the tournament in Tallinn, Estonia. The 20-year-old claimed the world title with a comeback win in the final seconds against the highly-rated Russian prospect Alik Shebzukhov.
With the seconds ticking away, Punia was trailing 0-2 to Shebzukhov, who had finished fifth at the Russian senior nationals, earlier this year. However, just before the final whistle, Punia managed a takedown to take two points. That was enough, as according to the rules, if both wrestlers end level, the one who claimed the final point is to be adjudged the winner.
"It feels very good to win India's first junior world title in 18 years," Punia told UWW (United World Wrestling), after becoming the first Indian to win gold since Ramesh Kumar (69kg) and Palwinder Cheema (130kg) won gold medals at the 2001 World junior championships. A day before, Punia, who trains at New Delhi's Chhatrasal Stadium, started his tournament with a 10-1 win over Hungarian Milan Koresog in the pre-quarterfinal before advancing past Canada's Hunter Lee.
Much like his win in the final, he pulled off a comeback in the semifinals too. He seemed to struggle against Georgian Miriani Maisuradze, trailing 2-1 till the penultimate minute before wrapping up a 3-2 win. This was the second gold medal for Punia at the World level. He had announced himself as a talent to watch out for with a gold medal at the 2016 World Cadet championships in the 84kg category.
He had come close to a junior gold last year too but had faltered in the final and had to be satisfied with a silver medal. For Punia, the son of a milkman from Haryana's Jhajjar, the title of world's best junior is just the start. He is already a formidable force in the senior category having won a bronze at the Asian Championships and a silver at the Yasar Dogu competition earlier this year.
Ranked 5th in the international rankings, he will be representing the country at the Senior World Championships in Kazakhstan next month. He is already looking forward to taking his junior form there. "Next up is the big (senior) World Championships where I hope to become world champion again," Punia told UWW.