Bajrang Punia has decided to focus on training over the competition, all for one thing – to win a medal for India at the Tokyo Olympics.
With just 43 days to go, the Indian wrestler began his training in Russia to give the finishing touch to his preparations.
“I want to do my best in the (Tokyo) Olympics. For the last year and a half, I have worked hard on my fitness. My mantra is to fight hard during my bouts,” he said.
Bajrang will train in Vladikavkaz, one of the main wrestling hubs in Russia. The area has produced multiple world and Olympic champions, including 2016 Olympic champion Soslan Romanov.
“We will train in Vladikavkaz, where Zaurbek Sidakov (reigning world champion in 74kg) trains. The other top wrestlers who train there are Olympic champion (65kg) Soslan Romanov, 70kg world champion David Baev. It will be good for him,” Bajrang Punia's coach Shako Bentinidis told Sportskeeda.
What will be the training plan for Bajrang Punia in Russia?
Shako and Bajrang Punia are currently working on increasing concentration and functionality on the mat. The Georgian coach believes it will be important for the three-time world medalist when he takes the mat in Tokyo.
“Last year was tough for everyone. But now it's time (to focus on the Tokyo Olympics). We are getting closer and have to be mentally strong and focus on the process rather than the result. We are working on increasing Baju’s (Bajrang) focus on the mat. While training I make his lose his concentration on purpose, but when he does, I make him repeat the entire exercise. The idea is to focus on the match and shut the outer voices.”
Bajrang Punia adding new techniques to his arsenal for Tokyo Olympics
Bajrang Punia has often been criticized for his poor leg defense. It is one weakness that has cost him crucial matches, including the 2020 Asian Championship bout against Japan’s Takuto Otoguro.
However, off late, this weakness has turned into his strength.
Instead of looking at it as a weakness, Shako says they are using it to their advantage by working on counter techniques.
Glimpses of these new techniques were visible at the Matteo Pellicone Rome Ranking Series in March, where Bajrang Punia won a gold medal.
“He has greatly improved the technical aspects. It’s time to refine them and add new techniques to it. And about his leg defense, he has been improving that too. With better sparring partners in Russia, we are sure to improve further,” he said.
Bajrang Punia, too, shares his coach’s thoughts. During a media interaction before leaving for Russia, the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medalist said the techniques can only be improved through sparring.
“I am focussing on all areas including my leg defense. I am not leaving any stone unturned so I do not give opponents any advantage."
Bajrang Punia plans to compete at Ali Aliev before Tokyo Olympics
While training is important, Bajrang Punia and Shako understand the need for competition too. The duo plan to compete at the Ali Aliev Memorial tournament in Kaspiysk scheduled from June 25 to 27.
“Ali Aliev tournament will be a good one for us. It will help us assess our shortcomings and work on them in Russia,” Shako said.
Bajrang Punia and Shako plan to stay in Russia until the first week of July and travel directly to Tokyo to avoid travel restrictions.
“Yes, there are problems but our focus is to win a medal for India. We plan to train in Russia and then leave for Tokyo directly to avoid any unnecessary travel restrictions.”