USA, Russia, and Iran would pose Indian wrestlers the biggest threats at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: Deepak Punia

Deepak Punia will feature in the men's 86kg category at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics
Deepak Punia will feature in the men's 86kg category at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics

Deepak Punia is one of India’s eight wrestlers to have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with the grappler making the cut in the men's 86kg category at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Similar to most wrestlers, there has been a lot of waiting for Deepak over the past year-and-a-half, with the lockdown stalling competitive action altogether. However, the youngster spent his time at home in a slightly different way, compared to the normal trend.

While physical exercises were common practice for athletes, Deepak stepped up and even visited an ‘akhara’ regularly to improve on certain areas. He did not go out with friends, with his focus only on training, ringing up two-time Olympic-medallist Sushil Kumar quite often for vital advice.

The hard-work reaped results as he made a memorable comeback to the international circuit at the individual World Cup in December 2020. He followed up by claiming a silver medal at the 2021 Asian Wrestling Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, last month.

But, for now, he is gearing up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and nothing less than a medal would satisfy him. With wrestling yielding medals for the past three editions, there are loads of expectations from the contingent this time as well, with Deepak Punia considered one of the major prospects.

Sportskeeda caught up with the wrestler for a small interview.

Deepak Punia talks about lockdown, Olympic dreams and the biggest threat for Indian wrestlers at the Olympics

SK: Like most Tokyo-bound wrestlers, you also qualified for the Olympics back in 2019. It has been a long wait for you, what were your first reactions when the Olympics were postponed?

Deepak: The time when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were about to happen, our build-up was good, the preparations were good, we played a lot of competitions, and we were gaining experience.

But, the Olympics could not have been staged during such circumstances, we couldn't have done anything about it. So, the only motivation following the postponement was that we would get another extra year to prepare ourselves.

SK: How did you spend your time during the lockdown? Did you manage to keep yourself in shape?

Deepak: My routine was similar during the lockdown as well, but the only problem was the lack of sparring partners. Waking up in the morning, running, and subsequent training - all were unchanged during the lockdown. Wrestling was absent because of the situation, but slowly things became better.

Also Read: From Rohtak to Tokyo - Everything You Need to Know About Tokyo Olympic-bound wrestler Seema Bisla

SK: The individual World Cup was the first event you participated in after the lockdown. Did you face difficulties at the mat after not being out-of-action for almost a year?

Deepak: There was a whole year gap between the last tournament and the Individual World Wrestling World Cup. I was feeling weak during the tournament. However, I played another tournament following that - the Asian Wrestling Championships.

Even before the Olympics, I want to participate in a couple of tournaments. I am planning to take part in the rankings series in Warsaw, Poland. Playing in competitions gives me confidence, and I get to learn a lot of things as well.

SK: However, you did miss the Matteo Pellicone ranking series in Italy after catching a fever, how disappointing was that for you?

Deepak: I was prepared for that event, but a few days before the competition I had a fever. One to one-and-a-half weeks I was weak. The body was broken and I didn’t feel like wrestling and even if I went, the performance would not have been very promising. It was better that I skipped the event.

Deepak Punia (right) claimed a silver medal at the Asian Championships, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, last month
Deepak Punia (right) claimed a silver medal at the Asian Championships, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, last month

SK: With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics knocking at the door, what is your daily regime in the build-up to the mega-event? How many hours do you usually train in a day?

Deepak: I wake up at 4 am, about one hour before the training starts. The training session is of three hours in the morning, from 5 am to 8 am, following which I get some time to rest. Post-training I have some juice, nuts and then have breakfast, before taking a nap.

Then again, the drill starts at 4 pm for the evening session, even though the time does not remain fixed. During the winters, the training in the evening starts a bit early. The time table changes, the schedule is changed by the coach.

SK: How hopeful are you about the Indian wrestling contingent for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Which countries do you feel can pose the maximum threat to Indian grapplers?

Deepak: I hope that India performs well at the Tokyo Olympics. There is a chance that India is going to win quite a few medals. I am going to give my 100%. The Olympics is not an ordinary event, top wrestlers from all over the world come with their best of preparations, so each bout is going to be tough.

The three countries - the US, Russia and Iran - would be the toughest to beat at the Olympics, and they are going to pose the biggest threat to the Indian contingent.

SK: With the entire Olympics to be staged behind closed doors, do you feel it could work as a disadvantage for wrestlers, especially for Indians, who are always cheered up by fans at the venue?

Deepak: I am happy with the fact that the Olympics are happening in the first place. For an athlete, the occasion is huge, with it coming every four years. This time it's happening after a gap of five years.

It's not that it will get canceled all over again, that’s a good sign. It is disappointing how the Games will be staged (without spectators) this time. But the cheer-up from the coaches and support staff will provide a source of motivation for the wrestlers.

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