Try and reminisce the days before the Tokyo Olympics with wrestler Bajrang Punia as the central figure. There was a sense of anticipation in the air. He was touted to be India’s biggest hope for an Olympic gold. Fans, the wrestling federation and certain sections of media thought it was a foregone conclusion.
After all he was the World No. 2 going into the Olympics, he had won the 2018 Commonwealth Games as well as the 2018 Asian Games gold medals, besides coming on top in various ranking tournaments before the marquee event.
But the ones who follow the sport regularly and with intent knew the field was tough in the 65kg weight category. There were the likes of top seed Gadzhimurad Rashidov of Russia, 2018 World Champion Takuto Otoguro of Japan, Iszmail Muszukajev of Hungary, John Michael Diakomihalis of the United States and fierce competitors like Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan. Ultimately, Bajrang lost the semifinal to Aliyev, but grabbed the bronze by putting it across Niyazbekov in the repechage round.
A bronze was “somewhat a setback” in Bajrang’s own words, but again according to Bajrang “an Olympic medal is an Olympic medal”.
During the Olympics, we saw Bajrang fighting during the initial rounds as well as the match against Aliyev with a protective tape and cap on his right knee. As a result, he was a touch tentative and didn’t go all out until the bronze medal match against Niyazbekov. He thumped the Kazakh 8-0 in that bout.
“With the knee strapping, it was difficult with the movements to attack. I was fearful while going for the attack,” Bajrang recollects.
In the build-up to the Olympics, Bajrang injured himself during a preparatory tournament in Russia. He did some rehab in Russia, but his mind was impacted. “The semifinal result against Aliyev would’ve been different if I had gone all out like I did in the bronze medal match,” Bajrang rues.
After the Olympics, Bajrang went into full rehab for nearly seven months. “The first six-seven months after the Olympics were spent in nursing the injury. I was only focused on not aggravating it and moving in the right direction,” Bajrang said during a media interaction organised by the Sports Authority of India before heading for a 35-day training camp in Michigan, United States.
He will straightaway go to Birmingham from the US to defend his Commonwealth Games title.
“You do regret the mistakes you made in the past, but you have to move on eventually and focus on your training and the next competitions. It’s more about learning from mistakes than regretting them,” the 28-year-old added.
Back on the mat, Bajrang won a silver at the Asian Championship in April this year. In May, he was made to sweat hard at the trials for the CWG, but eventually clinched his spot. In June, he won a bronze at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Bajrang, so far, has looked a shadow of what he was at his peak. The competition at CWG, however, is not the strongest, and Bajrang can look to elevate his confidence level at the event. A gold medal-winning performance might just be the booster shot he needs.
August 5 will be the day Bajrang gets the attention of the country back on him.
Source By – The Times of India