Deepak Punia is one of the best young wrestlers to have come out of India in recent times.
Last year, the 20-year-old not only became the world junior champion in 86kg but also went on to reach the final at the senior World Championships. By doing so, he secured a quota for the Tokyo Olympics although the youngster lost in the final.
Through his impressive performances at the highest level of the sport, Deepak Punia has given abundant notice of his steely nerves and fighting spirit. The same was evident when the rising star overcame the unfortunate death of his mother during the COVID-19 pandemic to join the training camp at the SAI Center in Sonepat when restrictions were lifted.
Expectedly, the going wasn't smooth for Deepak Punia, as he was one of three male wrestlers to test positive for COVID-19. After recovering from the virus, Punia put in the hard yards for the Wrestling World Championships in Serbia, but the event got cancelled.
For Deepak Punia, that was followed by a twin setback, as his plans of participating in the Poland Open suffered a blow, and the World Championships also got scrapped.
Excerpts of Deepak Punia's interview
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Deepak Punia shared his thoughts on the mega event getting cancelled and also talked about his training and future plans. Here are the excerpts of that interview:
Q: What is your reaction to the Wrestling World Championships getting cancelled after your Poland Open setback?
Deepak Punia: We had been training hard for some time now. I had kept the Poland Open in my schedule because I wanted to test my level ahead of the World Championships. We haven't had a chance to play in competitions for a long time. Playing at the Poland Open would have helped me to know my mistakes and rectify them. We had been preparing with an eye to it.
Now that the World Championships has been cancelled, we can't do much about it. I have to keep up the intensity level in training. I feel a little sad that it got cancelled because we were really looking forward to it.
Q: It's less than a year to go for the Tokyo Olympics, but Indian wrestlers are hardly getting a chance to play any tournament. Do you think it could affect their performances at the mega event?
Deepak Punia: There is no tournament now. It's the same for everyone. Other wrestlers are also not getting to play competitions. To replicate the feel of competitive play, we are having practice matches regularly at our akhada. That is helping us to prepare well.
Q: How is your fitness level now after recovering from COVID-19? How has your training been going on?
Deepak Punia: I am fully fit now. I had COVID-19 in September, but I recovered within 6-7 days. I joined the camp after ten days or so. Since then, I have been putting in the hard yards at training. Right now, I am at the SAI Center as we have a Diwali leave. The camp will resume post Diwali.
Q: How did you train while you were at home during the lockdown?
Deepak Punia: I had requested for equipment from the training centre and trained with them at home during the lockdown. Fortunately my village, Chhara in Haryana, didn't have a lot of COVID-19 cases, and I could train at the village akhada sometimes. At times I could train at home. I would wake up early in the morning and used to run and then come back and complete my training at home.
Q: The Nationals also look doubtful now. Is there any confirmation about the Nationals?
Deepak Punia: The Federation hasn't confirmed that till now whether they would go ahead with the Nationals or not. Right now I have no idea in which tournament we would be able to compete again.
Q: What is your plan regarding training in the coming months?
Deepak Punia: Once the national camp starts, I would be back again at the camp and work hard there. Once the restrictions on travel are lifted in Europe, I will look to get some training done abroad. In India, we don't have a lot of top-class wrestlers in the higher weight categories. If we are training with an eye on the Olympics, we have to make use of international camps.
Those are very high-level camps, where wrestlers from 10-15 countries get to compete with each other. You get to compete against different opponents with different styles every day. Some of them are world champions or Olympic medalists, and you get to gauge your level well in those training bouts. I am looking forward to them.Published 17 Nov 2020, 17:28 IST