Bajrang Punia has a trophy cabinet full of medals at his home in Sonepat, Haryana starting with the 2010 Cadet Asian Championship gold. With a medal from almost every competition he has entered, Bajrang has now set his sights on the Olympic medal in Tokyo.
His mentor and 2012 London Games bronze medalist Yogeshwar Dutt feels Bajrang Punia has the skills to continue India’s medal-winning streak at the Games.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Yogeshwar Dutt said:
“He has done well so far. All he needs to do is stay switched on for some more time, and it will translate into a medal at the Olympics,”
Yogeshwar Dutt and Bajrang Punia share a unique relationship.
Bajrang grew up watching Yogeshwar and was mesmerized by his work ethic. While the majority of wrestlers of his generation dreamt of emulating two-time Olympic medalist Sushil Kumar, Bajrang wanted to surpass Yogeshwar. And the latter believes it can happen at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I have always told him, the more focused he will is on wrestling, the better his chances will be at the Olympics. He can compete with the same intensity throughout a bout. It’s a rare skill set in our sports,” says Yogeshwar Dutt.
Bajrang Punia has been one of the busiest and most successful wrestlers in the past three years. With 65 wins from 75 bouts, the Indian wrestler is a force to be reckoned with in the 65kg category.
According to Yogeshwar Dutt, the strength and stamina the 27-year-old possesses is extraordinary. His relentless attacks and ability to finding scoring opportunities have earned him the title ‘The Tank’.
“Bajrang possesses extraordinary power and stamina. I doubt there is anyone out there who can match up with him in this regard,” Yogeshwar Dutt says.
Bajrang Punia has often credited Dutt with helping him build a solid base. The Indian wrestler got his chance to work up close with his idol back in 2008 when he shifted to Chhatrasal Stadium. Initially, he would just observe Yogeshwar training.
“I would only watch him in my early days because I used to wrestle in the 42 kg, while he (Yogeshwar) was competing in 60kg,” Bajrang Punia recalls.
For four years, the Tokyo Olympic-bound wrestler observed his idol sweating it out on the mat. Then in 2012, after winning a gold medal in the nationals, he started sparring with “Yogi bhai”.
“He would guide me and correct me if my technique was wrong somewhere. He still supports me even today,” the three-time world medalist says.
Yogeshwar Dutt’s advice to Bajrang Punia
In 2018, Yogeshwar announced his retirement to make way for ever-improving Bajrang Punia in 65kg. He recalls it was not a tough decision as he believed it was time to start preparing his apprentice for the Olympics.
“It was important that Bajrang started preparing for an Olympic medal. I knew I couldn’t continue until 2020, so it was better to show support to Bajrang. He will be a strong contender for gold at the Tokyo Olympics,” Yogeshwar Dutt says.
However, the 38-year-old also has a word of caution for Bajrang Punia. Dutt says he should focus on his leg defense as it is a weakness every opponent tries to exploit.
Leg defence now Bajrang Punia’s strength: Coach
Bajrang Punia’s Georgian coach Shako Bentinidis thinks otherwise.Although he agrees it is a chink in Bajrang’s armor, they have worked out ways to make it his strength.
“It is good everyone knows it is his weakness. This gives us a headstart. We know they will try to exploit it. So, when they do, we will look for counters,” Shako tells Sportskeeda.
Both Bajrang and Shako have been training in Vladikavkaz, Russia. Bajrang will enter the Tokyo Olympics as the second seed.
Indian wrestlers at Tokyo Olympics
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India will field seven wrestlers at the Tokyo Olympics, including Bajrang Punia.