Asian Games 2018: 10 Things to know about India's gold medal-winning wrestler Bajrang Punia
Wrestling has always been a medal-clincher for India on the world stage with the likes of Sushil Kumar, Sakshi Malik, Phogat sisters and Yogeshwar Dutt bringing in laurels for the country at the Olympics, World Championships, Asian Championships and the Asian Games over the years.
Another name that has cropped up in the past few years has been the 24-year-old youngster from the state of Haryana in Northern India, Bajrang Punia. Bajrang has stood out as one of the most touted wrestlers representing the nation at the sporting extravaganza in Indonesia, clinching the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games, after an 11-8 victory against Japan's Takatani Daichi in the final clash.
He has gone on to live up to the expectations of people and reached the finals of the 65kg freestyle wrestling category storming through all the competition in front of him on the mat.
Bajrang defeated opponents from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Mongolia in the pre-quarterfinals, quarterfinals and semifinals respectively to enter the finals. He won all three of his bouts with a technical superiority score, meaning he beat his opponents with a gap of 10 points.
Here are some things that you might not have known about the soon-to-be 2-time Asian Games gold medalist wrestler.
#10 Started wrestling at an early age
Bajrang was born to Balwan Singh Punia an Olympian in 1994 in Khudan village of Jhajjar district in the state of Haryana, North India. He took up the sport of wrestling at an early age of seven.
#9 Father was his inspiration to take up wrestling
Bajrang's father was a pehelwan (wrestler) in his youth and then took up farming as his full-time profession. Bajrang was inspired by his father to take up the sport as he wanted at least one wrestler in his family.
#8 Studies never interested him, the akharas were his true calling
At a young age, Bajrang realized that he had no interest in academics and used to bunk school lectures and run away to local akharas to learn wrestling. By the age of 11, he began travelling to popular akharas far from his village and trained at Virender ka akhara for a duration of two and a half years. After this stint, Bajrang trained at the famous "Mahabali Satpal Akhara" at the Chhatrasal Stadium.
#7 Bajrang considers fellow wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt his "Guru"
While training under Mahabali Satpal, Bajrang came in contact with another Indian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt and they developed a guru-shishya bond over the years. The young Bajrang was inspired by the hard work, determination and tenacity of Dutt, who was giving it all to make it on the large stage after grabbing a bronze medal at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. Six years later, Yogeshwar Dutt won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics which further inspired Bajrang to work hard.
#6 First medal victory at the World Wrestling Championships
At a young age of 19, Bajrang went on to participate in the World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary after his "guru" Yogeshwar Dutt had pulled out citing an injury. Bajrang performed well and managed to win the bronze medal, which brought him into the spotlight on the national stage.
#5 Twin successes in 2014
Near the end of the year 2013, the Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (FILA) re-organized the weight categories for the sport replacing the 60 and 66 kg categories with 61 and 65 kg respectively. Yogeshwar Dutt left the 61 kg category for Bajrang to shine and the disciple was quick to pick up the mantle, winning silver medals at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
#4 Bajrang stepped up to the 65 kg category on Yogeshwar's insistence
Before the Rio Olympics in 2012, Yogeshwar Dutt informed Bajrang that this will be his last Olympics and asked him to step up to the 65 kg category from the 61 kg that he was competing in. The youngster respected Dutt and took the decision of moving to the higher weight class.
#3 Bajrang's family relocated to Sonepat for his training
After his persistent success on the world stage, Bajrang decided to move to the Sports Authority of India centre in Sonepat, Haryana to train for all the big events. His family was supportive of this decision and relocated from Khudan to Sonepat for him.
#2 Arjuna Award honour in 2015
Owing to his achievements in wrestling, the Indian government decided to bestow Bajrang with the prestigious Arjuna Award in the year 2015. He also won the Dave Schultz Memorial Tournament in the same year.
#1 The year 2018 has been a productive one for Bajrang
2018 has been a superb year for the 24-year-old wrestler as he has won three gold medals and a bronze medal in the four events that he has competed in. Bajrang won the gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Tbilisi Grand Prix, and Yasar Dogu International in Istanbul and the bronze medal at the Asian Championships in Bishkek.