Tracking Bajrang Punia’s performances over last two years-Sports News , Justnewsday
Justnewsday.com takes a quick look at wrestling star Bajrang Punia’s performances over the past two years, and charts his journey towards securing Olympic qualification.
Editor’s Note: For five years now, Indian athletes have been dreaming to make up for the disappointment of a two-medal haul in Rio. The span has been extraordinary, with COVID-19 having thrown their preparations – and the Olympics itself – off gear. However, in true Olympic spirit, the country’s finest sportspersons have battled form and uncertainty to put their best foot forward in what promises to be a Games like none other. In our latest series, we track the last two years’ performances of our athletes to give you a ready guide to their form leading into the biggest sporting spectacle of the world.
With the Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, Justnewsday takes a quick look at one of India’s brightest talents Bajrang Punia, and charts his journey towards securing Olympic qualification:
Ace Indian grappler Bajrang Punia booked a Tokyo Olympics berth at the World Wrestling Championships in September 2019, clinching the bronze after defeating Mongolia’s Tulga Ochiryn 8-7 in a come-from-behind win.
Punia had previously bagged a silver in the previous edition of the tournament. With his victory, the 27-year-old became the only Indian wrestler to bag three medals at the World Championships.
He lost his controversial semi-final bout against Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov. The match ended with the score at 9-9 but since the local favourite was given a bigger throw of four points in the bout, he was declared the winner.
Punia kicked off 2020 on the right note, bagging gold in the Rome Ranking Series event in January, after getting the better of Ukraine’s Vasyl Shuptar (6-4) and American Jordan Oliver (4-3) in the semi-final and final respectively.
Challenges due to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a major disruption in the sporting schedules and much like athletes, Punia had to miss out on competitive action and his training also took a hit.
“In 2020 the biggest challenge for anyone, not just athletes, was escaping COVID-19 . I was rigorously following all the guidelines given by the government and doctors. Wrestling is a contact sport where you need to grapple in close quarters with your opponents. This is why even sparring with a partner became difficult during the lockdown. So I bought a wrestling mat for my house and did the best I could by myself. I couldn’t train at 100 percent,” he told Justnewsday.
The Indian grappler trained at Cliff Kean Wrestling Club in Michigan for two months late last year with American wrestlers. He was part of the FloWrestling invitational meet in USA, where he won gold.
He was one of the first high-profile athletes from India to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Making good use of his first international competition since the COVID-19 pandemic and the final one ahead of the Olympics, the Indian grappler defended his title at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in March 2021. In a thrilling final against Mongolia’s Tulga Tumur Ochir, he pulled off a two-pointer in the last 30 seconds, levelling the score 2-2 and being declared as the winner on criteria. Notably, he claimed the No 1 ranking in the 65kg freestyle category with this win.
Punia then performed exceedingly well at the Asian Wrestling Championships in April, making it all the way to the final. Unfortunately for the Indian wrestler, he was then forced to pull out of a highly-anticipated rematch against Japan’s Takuto Otoguro due to the resurfacing of an old elbow injury. Punia ended the tournament with silver, and he missed out on a short training stint in Bulgaria due to the injury.
Punia announced that he would be skipping the Ranking Series event in Poland and completing the final few weeks of preparations for the Olympics in Russia. Whilst in Russia, there was another injury scare for the wrestler, as he was forced to withdraw from a semi-final bout due to a knock to the knee. Shortly after his injury, both Punia and his coach made it clear that it was a minor issue, and that it was nothing to worry about.
Click here to check out form guides for the rest of the Indian contingent at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
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