Today we feature a young wrestler and a race walker who finished in the top 10 in the London Olympics in 2021 – Deepak Punia and KT Irfan.
Deepak Punia (Wrestling)
Date of Birth: May 19, 1999
Birth Place: Jhajjar, Haryana
Sport/Event(s): Wrestling (Freestyle – 86kg)
* Bronze in 2020 New Delhi Asian Championship (86kg)
* Silver in 2019 Nur-Sultan World Championships (86kg)
* Gold in 2019 Tallinn World Junior Wrestling Championships (86kg)
* Bronze in 2019 Xi’an Asian Championship (86kg)
* Silver in 2018 Trnava World Junior Wrestling Championships (86kg)
* Gold in 2018 New Delhi Asian Junior Championship (86kg)
* Gold in 2016 Tbilisi World Cadet Championships (85kg)
Deepak Punia’s father and grandfather competed in local dangals in Chhara village in Jhajjar and Deepak used to accompany them since he was four years old. In order to earn some quick money to fund his career, Deepak started participating in local competitions after watching his cousin Sunil Kumar, who happened to be a well-known name in the dangal circuit.
It was in 2015 that Deepak was taken to the Chhatrasal Stadium for formal training by his cousin and soon enough the wrestler began to be known for his maturity, resourcefulness and fearlessness on the big stage.
In 2019, Deepak became the youngest Indian wrestler to reach the final of a World Championship and won the silver medal to secure a berth in the Tokyo Olympics.
2019 was the year when Deepak made a phenomenal transition from junior to the senior circuit. Deepak became the first Indian wrestler in 18 years to win a junior world title and then backed it up with a silver medal on his debut at the Senior World Wrestling Championships.
An injury prevented Deepak from taking the mat in the final but it could not prevent him from grabbing an Olympic berth.
Due to his phenomenal season, Deepak was not only named the ‘Junior Freestyle Wrestler of the Year’ by United World Wrestling (UWW), it also propelled him to the No. 1 position in the 86kg category in the UWW rankings.
KT Irfan (Athletics)
Date of Birth: February 8, 1990
Birth Place: Malappuram, Kerala
Sport/Event(s): Athletics (Race-walking)
National Record: 1:20:21 in 2012 London Olympics (20km) – Finished 10th
* Gold in 2017 Delhi Race Walking championship (01:22:43)
* Bronze in 2017 Nomi Asian Race Walking Championship (01:20:59)
* Gold in 2012 Federation Cup Senior Athletic Championship (01:22:14)
* Gold in 2011 Open National Athletic Championship (01:27:46)
* Silver in 2011 Inter State Senior National Athletic Championship (01:30:31)
Irfan Kolothum Thodi. (Photo by Serhat Cagdas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Race walker KT Irfan was the first Indian athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics securing a berth in early 2019. He finished fourth with a timing of 1:20:57 in the 20km event of the Asian Race Walking Championships in Nomi, Japan.
This will be the second Olympics outing for Irfan after the 2012 London Games, where he finished 10th, clocking 1:20:21, which continues to be his personal best and the national record. Irfan qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but missed the flight to Rio because of a stress fracture.
Irfan had a setback in 2018, when he became one of two Indian athletes who were expelled from the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games for not adhering to the ‘no needle policy’ of the Games.
Irfan is also an Indian Army non-commissioned officer.
The son of a daily wager, Irfan comes from a modest background. When he qualified for the London Olympics, he didn’t have proper walking shoes. Race walking shoes are different from the ones worn by runners. Superstar actor Mohan Lal was at that time the brand ambassador of Kerala Athletics and paid for Irfan’s kit and shoes.
In an exclusive interview to TimesofIndia.com in April last year, Irfan had said – “I recorded 1:20:21 in London. The bronze medallist, China’s Zhen Wang, in the London Olympics recorded 1:19:25. The medal was not that far from me. I lacked technique. But this time I have experience and have improved my technique. My target is to touch 1:19 and I am sure I will do that. I want to be the first Olympic medallist in race walking for my country.”