How training centers in rural India helped breed champions like Bajrang Punia

Wrestling - Olympics: Day 14
Wrestling - Olympics: Day 14

India’s star freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia is in the race for a spot in the final in the men’s 65kg category at the Tokyo Olympic Games. According to Mahavir Prasad, Bajrang is a product of the infrastructural setup in rural parts of India. This is what the Dronacharya Awardee in wrestling had to say about the system in place to produce champions like Bajrang Punia.

“Pockets of wrestling training centers in several villages of Haryana have been instrumental in encouraging budding athletes to learn the fundamentals of the sports,” said Mahavir.

Bajrang learned the fundamentals of the sport at a wrestling training center set up by former international Virender Dalal in the Chhara district of Jhajjar in Haryana, according to Mahavir.

“Bajrang started wrestling In 2003. He must have been around 10 or 11 when his father took him to a wrestling training centre,” added the Dronacharya awardee.

According to Virender Dalal, who runs wrestling training in Chhara, Bajrang was a very disciplined student. He used to come early to the center. Before the training, Bajrang ensured that everything was neat and tidy.

“Bajrang was very particular about cleanliness. He would even clean the wrestling mat if it was dirty. He was the first one to come and see if everything was ready for training,” said Virender.

Virender started his own wrestling training center in 1996. It was adopted by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in 2004.

“Bajrang was one of the wrestlers of the first batch who benefited from the SAI scheme. The wrestlers used to get a monthly scholarship of Rs 1000,” said Virender.

Virender said Deepak Punia, who finished fifth in the men’s 86kg freestyle event at the Tokyo Olympic Games, was also among the first batch of wrestlers selected for the SAI scheme.

“Deepak was also impressive in the age group competitions. Deepak won several age group titles in the village level competitions before he made a mark at the national level,” added Virender.

Virender said both Bajrang and Deepak later moved to New Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium to further polish their skills.

“After winning medals at the National School Games competition in 2010-2011 both Bajrang and Deepak shifted to New Delhi. It enabled them to further improve their skills and compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games,” added Virender.

All eyes will be on Bajrang when he takes the mat to book a spot in the final later today.

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Edited by Diptanil
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