Commonwealth Games 2018: 'All 12 wrestlers can return with medals from Gold Coast,' says Bajrang Punia
Years ago when the Haryana-born Bajrang Punia, was all of seven years, he started learning his first stances of wrestling. Egged on by his encouraging father, Punia's blood coursed with wrestling. To no surprise, at 24 years of age now, the young man is already decorated with several glittering accolades from his dazzling career.
The bright and promising pehlwan is headed to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games that ensue from the 4th of April. Before flying off to the Australian continent in hopes of adding his name to a gold medal, Bajrang Punia elaborated on his preparation and expectations from the CWG in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
He warms up to the conversation and reveals excitedly about the ongoing training for the Games. "The preparations and training going on for the upcoming Commonwealth Games are fantastic. I am at Sonepat now where the training is going on and everything is fine," he says.
The one thing that strikes out to you is the sheer optimism that fuels this young wrestler. From getting a bronze at the Budapest World Championships in 2013 to getting that coveted silver medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Punia has enjoyed a stellar career so far but he is only hoping to improve his performance and win that elusive gold this time at the CWG.
"I am obviously targeting and practising for the gold medal. I won a silver at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and I want to change the colour of the medal," he says in a voice filled with determination.
To ensure that there is no stone left unturned in the road to his success, Bajrang has taken extra caution and prepared, keeping strong rival opponents in mind. To realize the golden dream, Bajrang has toiled hours, practising rigorously and preparing diligently for each of his competitors.
"I think Nigeria, Canada have pretty good wrestlers. South Africa, too have a good team and they will be tough to defeat. I have seen the videos of the wrestlers who might be a threat and I have trained accordingly. Having observed when they attack, when they defend or counter attack... I have trained keeping all that in mind," he reveals.
Not only that, Bajrang, the seasoned wrestler that he is, is raring to depend on his main strength and use it to his advantage. "Earlier I would not start attacking from the start. But I have changed my style of wrestling. Now, I begin my attack right from the first. Therein lies my main strength."
The Haryanvi, who tasted success in the form of a gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championship last year in May, has preserved his top form and is super focused on winning medals for India.
However, like all athletes, he is pestered by that one thought ahead of such a big-ticket multi-sporting event where the nation's eyes will be on him.
"In the previous tournament, my performance was pretty good. I am in good form thanks to the rigorous training. Ahead of the Commonwealth Games, I can only hope that I stay fit enough to win a gold for my country," he asserts.
Headed to the island country of Australia on the 6th, Bajrang's concern extends to his fitness. "The only plan I have in my mind is to keep away from injuries before the bouts. I hope I don't fall sick and remain healthy to give my very best," he says.
Asked if he is going to get ample time to acclimatise himself with the conditions of Gold Coast, Bajrang, the confidence surging in his voice shoots back, "See, wrestling begins from the 12th. My fight is on the 13th. I will be getting one week to practice before it which is more than enough."
With the entire nation's hopes and expectations building up, we asked the 24-year-old if he lets this pressure of winning a gold for the country take a toll on him. Giving a wonderful piece of advice, Bajrang reveals his motto ahead of any match.
"I don't like to take pressure before any tournament. If I keep thinking that I will have to get a gold, then that might disturb my performance. Instead, when I enter the arena, I focus on my game and give it my very best and hope for the gold to come my way."
He seems very optimistic about the wrestling results in India and confides in us about the expected medals tally, "See, about medals..we have six boys and six girls. The boys' team is pretty strong while the girls' one is even stronger. And with the kind of preparation we have, we can expect all 12 of them to return with medals. And it would be great if six-seven out of them manage to bag the gold."
'Nobody should take steroids,
Drifting to other issues, Bajrang also applauded the Wrestling Federation of India on its recent rules about doping. If a player is caught depending on drugs to elevate his game, he will have to pay a fine from his own pocket.
"The decision taken by the Federation is justified. If a player commits such a mistake, by paying his own fine himself he can realize the onus of his guilt," he says before adding, "But firstly, nobody should even take steroids and things like that at the competing level. That hampers the image of our sport and India's pride."
Bajrang is a happy-go-lucky wrestler who likes to believe firmly that wrestling is very much a part of India and at par with any other celebrated sport.
"I think wrestling is a sport which wins medals in the Olympics everytime and is fairly recognised also I think people like wrestling in this nation. Thanks to the Pro Wrestling League it has gained more popularity."
The seasoned pehlwan sees the country teeming with talent in all corners. He assures us that wrestling will grow slow and steady and it's future looks bright with the likes of him paving the way. He says, "In Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh there is a considerable interest and takers for wrestling. I think it will slowly spread all over the nation. In Maharashtra, Hyderabad, too, there is an active growth in wrestling."
This spirited young wrestler is here to stir the pages of history and is revving up to fight and wrestle his way to a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games and hopefully, he will be able to realise the Commonwealth golden dream.