London: Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt gave India lot to cheer about by winning the bronze medal on a day when the hockey team, eight-time Olympic champions, ended their worst-ever Games with a wooden spoon in 12th position here Saturday.
Yogeshwar clinched the bronze medal in the men’s 60kg category at the ExCel Arena to give the country its fifth Olympic medal from the London Games here Saturday.
Yogeshwar’s medal lifted the gloom after South Africa gave the finishing touches to India’s disastrous campaign in the Olympic men’s hockey competition with a 3-2 win in the classification match for 11-12 positions here Saturday.
In athletics, Basanta Bahadur Rana created a national record but that could only ensure him a 36th place in the men’s 50km walk at the London Olympics here Saturday. Rana took three hours, 56 minutes and 48 seconds to complete the race.
As Yogeshwar walked into the North Arena 2, expectations were high from him. For him, London was “now of never”.
A determined Yogeshwar, who had lost in the quarterfinals in Beijing, churned out one of his best performance against North Korean Jong Myong Ri winning the bronze medal play-off match 3-1 at the ExCel Arena, which was packed with Indian supporters.
Yogeshwar, who was in his third Olympics, also became the third Indian wrestler after Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav and Sushil Kumar to win an Olympic medal. Jadhav and Kumar had won bronze medals in 1952 Helsinki and 2008 Beijing Games.
In the bronze medal match, Yogeshwar put up a spirited performance despite losing the first period 1-0. Struggling to barely open his right eye, he came back strongly in the second period winning it 1-0.
Realising that bronze medal was almost in his grasp, there was no stopping Yogeshwar in the third and the final period that he won 6-0.
The 30-year-old Yogeshwar jumped in joy and did a cartwheel as celebrations broke out in the North Arena 2. He had just snatched a medal from the jaws of defeat.
Yogeshwar’s medal chances looked all over after he lost his pre-quarterfinal bout to World Champion Besik Kudukhov of Russia. The Indian survived just two periods before losing 3-0 to the Kudukhov, who was also a bronze medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games.
But it was the Russian, who revived Yogeshwar’s medal hopes. Kudukhov won his quarter-final and semi-final matches to qualify for the final that also made the Indian eligible for the repechage.
In the first repechage, Yogeshwar won 3-0 against Franklin Gomez Matos of Puerto Rico, a silver medallist in the World Championship. The Indian won the first period 1-0. He then earned an advantage in the second period and won it 1-0 as well.
In Repechage 2, Yogeshwar got the better of Iranian Masoud Esmaeilpoorjouybari 3-1 in to set up a clash with the North Korean in the bronze medal play-off match.
A determined Yogeshwar bounced back in style against the Iranian despite losing the first period 3-0. Yogeshwar won the second period 3-2 and was unstoppable in the third period winning it 4-0.
Yogeshwar qualified for the pre-quarterfinal, beating Bulgarian Anatolie Ilarionovitch Guidea in the first round.
In hockey classification matches, while Indians showed some purpose against the South Africans, their overall performance in the match was no improvement on their showing in the previous outings.
A weak defence yet again allowed the South Africans to score through Andrew Cronje (8th), Timothy Drummond (33rd) and Lloyd Norris-Jones (64th) while Sandeep Singh converted a penalty corner in the 14th and Dharmavir Singh (66th) reduced the margin for India.
The game began rather ominously for India whose defender Manpreet Singh was stretchered out after being hit on the side of the head when he ran into the swinging stick of Lloyd Norris-Jones in the very fourth minute.
A key member of the midfield, Manpreet, however, returned to the field for the second half after medication and a huge bandage around his head.
South Africa dominated the early minutes and struck in the eighth when Julian Hykes latched on to a long ball into the circle and essayed a push that a diving goalkeeper Sreejesh stopped, but the ball slipped from underneath and a lurking Cronje pushed home.
The lead lasted a mere six minutes as India forced their first penalty corner that Sandeep Singh converted with a low and firm drag-flick past goalkeeper Erasmus Pieterse.
Thereafter, the ball swung from end to end, but with both teams being error prone, the exchanges never looked to result in any goal and so it proved to be.
Yogeshwar Dutt hit the headlines first in 2003 Commonwealth Championships by winning the gold, within five years of coming on the national scene.
Overcoming a career-threatening knee surgery, Yogeshwar won the 60 kg gold at the New Delhi 2010
The 29-year-old Indian, however, missed the Asian Games a month after the Delhi Games with a neck injury.
He however won a gold in the Asian Championship this year.
Yogeshwar worked hard for the London Olympics and is on a par with his childhood buddy Sushil Kumar, who won the bronze at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, at least for 14 hours.
Sushil will be fighting for a second Olympic medal Sunday.
Yogeshwar qualified for the 2012 Olympics by winning a silver medal at an Asian qualification competition in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Yogeshwar Dutt’s success graph
2003: Gold (60kg) – Commonwealth Championships
2006: Bronze (60kg) – Doha Asian Games
2008: Gold (60kg) – Asian Championships
2010: Gold (60kg) – Delhi Commonwealth Games
2012: Gold (60kg) – Asian Championships