Olympics-bound wrestler Bajrang Punia becomes first high-profile Indian athlete to get COVID-19 vaccine shot

Amit Kamath
·3-min read

Wrestler Bajrang Punia, one of India's brightest hopes to win a medal at the deferred Tokyo Olympics in July-August this year, has become the first high-profile Indian athlete to get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Bajrang admitted to having received the first dose in a media roundtable on Thursday. Details on when he got the first shot and where are not yet known.

"I have already received the first dose of the vaccine, and I will try to get the second dose after the Asian Championships (which are to be held in Kazakhstan's Almaty from 9-11 April)," said Bajrang. "Think all athletes should consult their doctors and their coaches before taking the decision (on getting inoculated). It's an individual decision to be taken by every athlete. I won't tell anyone to take the vaccine or won't tell anyone to not take it as well."

Bajrang getting inoculated is in line with the Indian government's stance that athletes will get vaccinated before they fly off to Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

"Athletes will be vaccinated before the Olympics. The Sports Ministry has decided that once COVID-19 warriors are vaccinated, then our priority is to vaccinate our athletes who are Tokyo Olympics-bound. Overall priority needs to be decided by the Health Ministry. Our Sports Ministry has already stated that we have a priority of vaccinating our athletes," sports minister Kiren Rijiju had said last month.

International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach has reiterated time and again that it will not be mandatory for athletes travelling to Tokyo for the Olympics and Paralympics to be vaccinated. However, he has said that the IOC encourages that athletes get vaccinated if the option is available to them in their country.

Recently, the IOC chief also revealed that the Chinese Olympic Committee had offered to make additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine available to those competing at Tokyo 2020 and the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. He had also said that a "significant number of Olympic teams have already been vaccinated".

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the sporting calendar, leading to big-ticket events such as the Tokyo Olympics and football's European Championships to be pushed ahead by a year.

Wrestling was no different, with there being no competitions held between April and October.

"In 2020 the biggest challenge for anyone, not just athletes, was escaping COVID-19. I was rigorously following all the guidelines given by the government and doctors. Wrestling is a contact sport where you need to grapple in close quarters with your opponents. This is why even sparring with a partner became difficult during the lockdown. So I bought a wrestling mat for my house and did the best I could by myself. So I couldn't train 100 percent," said Bajrang.

Bajrang trained at the Cliff Kean Wrestling Club in Michigan for two months late last year with American wrestlers under two-time Olympic champion Sergei Beloglazov. He also took part in the FloWrestling invitational meet in USA, where he won gold.

"When I got on the mat to compete (after nearly 10 months) in my first competitive bout my body was feeling very strange, it felt very heavy," said Bajrang, who also won the Matteo Pellicone ranking series tournament in Rome earlier this month.

On Thursday, Bajrang announced his partnership with Optimum Nutrition, who will be his 'supplement partner' leading up to the Tokyo Games.

"I've been using their products for years now. I can close my eyes and trust them. Trust is really important in this aspect of the sport, particularly given how vigilant we have to be to steer clear of doping," he said. Bajrang said he spent anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 per month on his nutritional needs.

Also See: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Hosts Japan says they will not take part in China vaccine offer

Tokyo Olympics 2020: IOC president Thomas Bach promises 'safe, secure' games

Tokyo Olympics 2020: Gymnastics test event in May cancelled, to be replaced by local event

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