Practising defence from ground position in the last three weeks with top wrestlers worked wonders for Sunil Kumar, who won India's first Greco Roman medal at the Asian Games in 13 years, bagging a bronze in the 87kg category even as three of his compatriots exited the tournament here on Wednesday.
Up against Kyrgyzstan's Atabek Azisbekov, the Indian wrestler fought a strategic bout in which twice he defended well from 'par terre' position, denying his opponent a scoring opportunity from the ground position for a 2-1 win.
He kept sliding in circles on his right, not letting Azisbekov get a grip to lift him from ground.
It was Azisbekov, who got on board first with a passivity point in the first period. Sunil levelled the score on Azisbekov's passivity as a major part of the bronze play-off was shorn of attacking moves.
The Indian camp also successfully challenged the referee's two-point decision given in favour of Azisbekov, who had managed to throw Sunil out but was not in control of the push-out move.
Sunil was already ahead on criteria and got the decisive point towards the end when his rival lost a challenge.
India had won two medals in Greco Roman in the Guangzhou edition with Ravinder Singh (60kg) and Sunil Kumar Rana (66kg) winning a bronze each in 2010.
"The defence from the ground position is the biggest weakness in India's Greco Roman wrestlers. We specifically worked on this aspect during our 18-day training stint in Azerbaijan, where we made Sunil practice with top wrestlers including the world champion in his category," Manoj Dhankar, India's Greco Roman coach at Asian Games told PTI.
"We had five world champions there. On days, we would ask Sunil to practice only defence from ground position. He would practice defence from 'par terre' at-least 50 times a day. It worked well here," Dhankar, who himself is an Asian Gamed medallist, added.
India's chief coach Hargobind Singh said the draw was such that they expected a medal from Sunil.
"We knew it will be difficult to beat Iran. Sunil was expected to beat the Kyrgyzstan wrestler since he does not enjoy good results against the Indians. He has lost twice to Harpreet Singh in the past," said Singh.
Sunil had begun with a close 4-3 win over China's Fei Ping and followed that up with a technical superiority victory over Tajikistan's Sukhrob Abdulkhaev, winning the quarterfinal in the first period itself.
The 2020 Asian champion then bumped into formidable reigning Asian champion Naser Alizadeh from Iran and lost 1-4 to go out of the gold medal race.
The other Indians in contention -- Gyanender (60kg), Neeraj (67kg) and Vikas (77kg) -- could not even win a single round.
Gyanender lost his opening bout 1-7 to Iran's Meysam Dalkhani, while Neeraj lost 3-5 to Uzbekistan's Makhmud Bakhshilloev.
Vikas lost his bout by technical superiority to China's Rui Liu.
On Thursday, the two remaining Indian Greco Roman wrestlers -- Narinder Cheema (97kg) and Naveen (130kg) -- will present their challenge.
The women's competition will also begin on Thursday and fast-rising Antim Panghal (53kg) will be in action along with the talented Pooja Gehlot (50kg) and Mansi Ahlawat (57kg).
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