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Asian Games 2018: Bajrang Punia Sees Asiad Gold as a Step On the Way to Becoming the Best

Along with two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, Bajrang Punia is the only male wrestler to have been awarded a berth on the 18-strong team that is vying for, hopefully, a bagful of medals at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang.

Abhimanyu Sen | News18 Sports

Updated:August 18, 2018, 1:12 PM IST
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Asian Games 2018: Bajrang Punia Sees Asiad Gold as a Step On the Way to Becoming the Best
File image of Bajrang Punia. (Image: PTI)

New Delhi: Along with two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, Bajrang Punia is the only male wrestler to have been awarded a berth on the 18-strong team that is vying for, hopefully, a bagful of medals at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang. While the 35-year-old Sushil, understandably will lead the pack as he returns to the Asian Games after 2006, Bajrang is among India’s strongest contenders for a Gold medal.

At Incheon, Bajrang (Silver) and his mentor Yogeshwar Dutt (Gold) apart, the rest were all Bronze medals (3), and this time, the young ace is focused solely on returning with nothing short of the top prize.

“I don’t want to say that I will definitely bring back the Gold, but I will be aiming for only that. I’ve been wrestling well this season and my confidence is high,” declares Bajrang, while wolfing down a quick lunch at a send-off function before the Games.

“To be the best I have to win Gold at the Olympics in Tokyo, but to scale that peak I need to first win in Jakarta and I am well prepared for this.”

The 24-year-old began the year with a Bronze at the Asian Championships, before going onto clinch Golds at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the Tbilisi Grand Prix in Georgia and the Yasar Dogu International in Istanbul. At the Asian Championships, it was Daichi Takatani from Japan who was his nemesis in the quarter-finals – in Jakarta Bajrang can a revival of the rivalry as they battle for top honours in the 65kg freestyle event.

Not interested in focussing on individual opponents at this early a stage, Bajrang explains, “On the mat it is all about who does better on the day. Each bout will be tough as the standard of competition is very high. I have it to give my best shot and hope I have God’s blessings.”

Understood to be the protégé to Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang goes onto explain that having the legend around him is extremely beneficial. Earlier it was Yogeshwar who represented India at the 65kg events, but now his disciple has taken over the baton and is looking good.

“Yogi bhai and I spend a lot of time together. He has always tried to motivate me even if the opposition is tough. His experience helps me a lot as he gives me a lot of useful insights about the wrestlers,” says the protégé.

“We always speak before my competition, and once I am aware of who I will be up against, Yogi bhai will help me prepare for the match.”

Bajrang, known for his immense stamina and talent has been in red hot form since 2017, and trained separately in Georgia and Turkey with his personal coach Georgian Emzario Bentinidis. It is a move that was afforded to him by the Wrestling Federation of India, and the young man is grateful for the leeway.

“Not needing to attend trials was a big boon for me as I could prepare on my own with my personal coach,” Bajrang says. “When you have personal attention it is easier to correct flaws.”

While most of the Indian team has been putting in the hours together, Bajrang has been away with Bentinidis and working hard. When asked why he preferred his solo method, the Haryanvi very categorically says that it was the only way to get ahead of opponents.

“When you are sparring with the same people regularly, the standard becomes stagnant. Outside India everyday there is a new person to wrestle and that way I learn more things that I can use on the mat.”

At this point, Bajrang gets a couple of calls asking him to appear for a photo with the rest of the squad, and he requests a little time to finish eating his much delayed lunch. With the president of the WFI and the Chef de Mission for the 2018 Asian Games waiting, he quickly wraps up his lunch without much ado and is ready for the cameras.

In his last seven tournaments, Bajrang has managed to be on the podium every time, with five instances of winning Gold. “I’ve been in good form and I want to continue that form into the Asian Games,” he signs off.

Bajrang will be in action at the 2018 Asian Games on 19th August (Sunday).

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| Edited by: Pratik Sagar
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