When five-year-old Deepak Punia started wrestling in 2004, he was simply following over half a century old wrestling tradition. The Chhara village, where Deepak grew up, has akhara’s as old as six decades.
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At least one member of each of the 10,000 families in Chhara, a district in Jhajjar in Haryana, practices wrestling, said Virender Dalal, a former international wrestling coach from Chhara.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Virender revealed:
“When Deepak started wrestling in 2004. he was just five years old. Wrestling is a sort of religion in the village. Each family in the village has at least one youngster who takes up wrestling. So Deepak's parents also wanted him to be a good wrestler.”
According to Virender, wrestling is deeply rooted in the village. There are four-five akhara’s in the village which are more than six decades old.
“Villagers have been involved in wrestling for a long time. Some of the akhara’s are as old as 60 to 70 years. Several wrestlers from the village have won national titles and competed at international level as well. However, Deepak has been the best,” added Virender.
Deepak is one win away from a gold medal match in the men’s 86kg freestyle event at the Tokyo Olympic Games. He has entered the semifinal round. If he wins his semis, he will compete for the gold medal. Deepak is well and truly keeping alive the tradition of the village on an international platform.
“Deepak started winning local titles when he was 11 years old. He was impressive in the age group competitions. Gradually he made a mark at the national level in the junior group. He is the best in his weight at the senior level now,” recalled the wrestling coach.
Deepak in fact trained at Virender’s wrestling training center in the village. The coach had set up a wrestling center in 1996 and it was adopted by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in 2004. Deepak was one of the youngsters from the village who joined Virender's center.
“Each family in the village wants their kids to take up wrestling. Even if some of the youngsters don’t make it big in wrestling, they do make efforts to visit akhara being run in the village in their formative years,” added the wrestling coach who is a physical education teacher for the Delhi government.
According to Virender, his indoor training center has two wrestling mats. It is free of charge for young, aspiring wrestlers. There is accommodation for the wrestlers as well at his center.
“I have passion for wrestling. I don’t charge any fee from the young wrestlers who come for practice,” said Virender.
On Wednesday morning, the villagers, including Virender, were glued to the TV set watching Deepak in action.
“We are elated that Deepak has entered the medal round at the Tokyo Olympic Games. He is one win away from a gold medal round. Everyone in the village wants Deepak to win gold,” said the wrestling coach.
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