To be in a rich vein of form ahead of a big multi-discipline event like the Asian Games is a path every sportsperson would like to walk. Indian freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia is experiencing precisely the same after he bagged his third consecutive gold medal this year at the just-concluded Yasar Dogu International Tourney in Turkey.
The latest triumph came close on the heels of Bajrang bagging a gold medal at the Tbilisi Grand Prix Event in Georgia. Of course, the 24-year-old Haryana lad had made a statement of sorts that he is ready for ‘big things’ with an impressive gold medal-winning effort at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in the 65-kg category.
So it has been a near-perfect build-up for the upcoming Asian Games.
Surprisingly, Bajrang wrestled in the 71-kg category at the Yasar Dogu International Tourney in Turkey instead of his usual 65-kg weight category.
“It was a conscious decision on my part to wrestle above my usual weight category in this Turkey tournament. I did not want to lose weight ahead of the Asian Games as it could have perturbed my preparations. I will now try to reduce my weight by a few kilos before the Asian Games so that I’m ready to give my best in Indonesia,” Bajrang gushes in a freewheeling chat with The Bridge from Istanbul.
Employed with Indian Railways since 2014, the suave, soft-spoken grappler has invariably done the country proud by standing in the medal podium. Rewind to the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi – where Bajrang was a last-minute inclusion in that tourney after seasoned Yogeshwar Dutt sustained an injury and went on to clinch a bronze medal.
“I fondly recall that tourney; it was my first international medal. Nothing can be bigger than standing in the medal podium,” says Bajrang, as it turned out is now striving to fill in the big shoes of Yogeshwar, whose place in the 65-kg weight category has been taken by Bajrang. “Yogeshwarbhai is everything to me – I took up wrestling as a kid watching him wrestle. He has been mentoring me all these years, and whatever little I have been able to achieve so far, it is because of his behind-the-scenes inputs,” he owes it to his childhood idol.
After his bang-bang performance at the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championship, Bajrang stepped up his game, soaring in confidence having played at the senior level. He won a coveted bronze medal in the 2013 World Wrestling Championships in 60-kg in Budapest. He shifted to the 61-kg category in 2014 in what panned out to be a great year. Bajrang scooped up a hat-trick of silver medals in 61-kg in the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Asian Wrestling Championships.
The Indian grappler seems to have a ball at the Asian Wrestling Championships – he won the gold in 65-kg at the 2017 Asian Wrestling Championships and followed it up with a bronze medal in 65-kg at the 2018 Asian Wrestling Championships.
Ask him about which most cherished medal win, Bajrang said “For me, all medals are an opportunity to make my country proud. I won’t say my bronze medal effort in the 2013 World Wrestling Championship or any other tourney is my most cherished effort. I’m proud of all the medals I have won for the country.”
You can’t take your opponent lightly: Bajrang Punia
A 19-year-old was thrown into the cauldron of international wrestling in 2013, and there hasn’t been much looking back after that. So how much has Bajrang developed as a wrestler ever since his international debut in 2013? “I have been working hard all the time and trying to stay disciplined. I prepared my food daily and take good care of my diet. Watching videos of my opponents have only helped sharpen my game,” he quips.
Bajrang is aware that the competition will be much stiffer at the Asian Games than the Commonwealth Games, where he bagged the gold medal.
“Asian Games will be a tough proposition; the competition is much tough than what you face at the Commonwealth Games. Asian wrestlers are the world’s best in the lower weight categories up to 74-kg, and the Europeans are among the world’s best in the higher weight categories. You can’t take any opponent lightly as every grappler must have worked hard to represent his country,” he fires a parting shot.
Indian wrestling fans would hope to see Bajrang bag a fourth consecutive gold medal at the upcoming Asian Games!