A man of few words, all of Bajrang’s energies in the last four years have been trained towards getting that Olympic medal. Whether it is about which tournament to participate in and which to let go, or about where to do his training or choosing his sparring partners, Bajrang’s moves have been solely driven by this strong desire to win gold at the Olympics.
The country also has massive expectations from him, and why not! In the last four years, Bajrang has won gold at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games (both in 2018); two gold medals (2017, 2019), two silver (2020, 2021) and one bronze (2018) at the Asian Championships; and a silver (2018) and a bronze (2019) at the World Championships.
He has also won a plethora of top-ranked positions at various international wrestling tournaments.
OLYMPICS KI AASHA II BAJRANG PUNIA II WRESTLING
Bajrang will go into the Tokyo Olympics as the world No. 2 and also the second seed for the Games in the 65kg category. A medal in the 65kg, however, won’t be easy. It is like a ‘group of death’ with 7-8 evenly-matched, supremely talented grapplers who can defeat the other on any given day.
There is reigning world champion and top seed Gadzhimurad Rashidov of Russia (against whom Bajrang has never competed) and the 2018 world champion Takuto Otoguro of Japan, who has defeated Bajrang twice in two meetings so far. Then there is Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan, seeded third, and Iszmail Muszukajev of Hungary, the fourth seed. Not to count out other fierce competitors and big names like Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan and John Michael Diakomihalis of the United States.
As per the seedings, Bajrang will avoid Muszukaev, who is not in his half, and will probably face Rashidov only if he enters the final. However, before that, Bajrang will hope not to run into his Achilles heel Otoguro prior to the semis. If he gets past Otoguro, Bajrang could face Niyazbekov in the semifinals.
Let’s Go!#Tokyo2020 https://t.co/LRzqlrbchY
— Bajrang Punia 🇮🇳 (@BajrangPunia) 1626503265000
Though the Kazakh had defeated Bajrang in the 2019 World Championships semifinal, the Indian came out trumps in their last meeting at the Ali Aliyev tournament in June.
“There is nobody who is a favourite in the 65kg category. There are 10-12 wrestlers who can defeat each other on their day,” Bajrang had told TOI before he left for a training stint in Russia.
“I believe in my training and want to give my best (at the Olympics). I want to come back with a medal.”
To come out victorious against such a field, Bajrang would’ve to be on top of his game right from the word go. It is common for Bajrang to give away points at the start of a bout and then make a powerful comeback – especially in the second quarter.
“I am working on not giving points early. Coach (Emzarios ‘Shako’ Bentinidis) keeps on telling me that a come-from-behind victory requires a lot of effort and if I keep on doing that, I will be spent when I reach the medal rounds,” reflects Bajrang.
From humble beginnings to one of India’s top freestyle wrestlers. 🇮🇳🤼@BajrangPunia is heading to @Tokyo2020 with… https://t.co/bzTHI8ohSA
— Olympics (@Olympics) 1625877000000
A lot has been said and written about Bajrang’s one major shortcoming: his leg defence. He, however, wants overall improvement.
“Just focusing on leg defence is not the solution. If I keep working on just that, other areas of my game will be ignored and new problems will crop up. I shouldn’t leave anything unattended.”
But the positive aspects of his game make him simply irresistible.
“When the opponent starts getting tired and fatigue sets in him, that’s when I pounce on and attack and accumulate points. My style is more on the lines of working hard for my win. I am not able to play the technical game like the other 65kg wrestlers do. My strong point is power and endurance. That helps me to come back (in a bout),” says the 27-year-old, who will be participating in his first Olympics.
“Power, endurance, stamina comes through training. No other formula. I don’t like working out in the gym that much. I like our desi methods like dand-baithak (sit-ups), rassi chadhai (rope climb). For me, it’s more about body weight training. That increases the power and stamina.”
August 6 and 7 will be the days of reckoning for Bajrang in Tokyo.