Why Bajrang Punia Wasn't Satisfied Even After Becoming the World No. 1

News18 Sports
Bajrang Punia had become the first Indian to be ranked world No.1 last year but that still was not enough for the top wrestler.

New Delhi: Bajrang Punia is a world-class wrestler and his mentality is that of one. While becoming the first Indian to be a world No.1 wrestler would be a huge achievement for anyone, Bajrang was slightly dissatisfied despite reaching the pinnacle of his sport.

"It of course felt good that I became the world No.1 but I would have been happier had I won the gold medal at World Championships," Bajrang told News18.com on the sidelines of an event where ASICS announced him as their athlete.

On October 22, 2018, Bajrang became the first Indian to win multiple medals at the World Championships after settling for silver in the 65kg freestyle men's final against Japan's Takuto Otoguro in Budapest. On November 10, he was ranked No. 1.

"My coach had told me that I would be world No.1 in the new rankings but I had told my coach as well that had I gone on top of the rankings along with the gold medal at Worlds, I would have felt better. My attempt is that only, when the next World Championships come, I want to win the gold medal," Bajrang stated.

Bajrang has only been elevating his status as India's no.1 wrestler and the fact that the world is recognising his brilliance further gained strength when he was invited for a bout at the prestigious Madison Square Garden in New York.

He was the first Indian to be invited for a match there and even though he lost the bout 8-10 to American Yianni Diakomihalis, he said he learnt a lot.

"I felt good playing at the Madison Square Garden as I was invited there. I got a lot of appreciation there, having played among so many people and on such a huge platform. I have been going around the world to wrestle and I have learnt something or the other from all those fights. That I got to wrestle in front of so many people, felt extremely good, there were a lot of Indians there as well. It was a different platform to play on."

For the wrestlers, strategic training holds utmost importance if they are battle for the medals in the top tournaments. Bajrang has been working under the aegis of Olympic medallist Yogeshwar Dutt since a very long time now.

Yogeshwar, himself a champion, helped developed Bajrang's game but it has been Emzarios Bentinidis who has guided Bajrang to the top. Taking the learnings from Yogeshwar, Bajrang has honed his skills under Bentinidis and has turned himself into a world-beater. And a lot of training has gone behind it.

"We have morning and evening sessions for training. So for example on Monday, I train on mat once and the other time, it's bar training. On Tuesday, both sessions are on the mat, it is for wrestling training and we have bouts. On Wednesday, we run.

"Coaches make different maps for training. We have a Sunday rest but we can't train on mat for all the six days because that increases the risk of injuries. We need strength and stamina, so bar training is also important. We have all kinds of training - from cross-fit and gyming to bar training and running," Bajrang explained.

Last year, a major controversy had struck the world of wrestling when Asian Games bronze medallist Divya Kakran lashed out at Delhi government and Arvind Kejriwal for not providing her enough support when she needed it.

Bajrang says "wrestling has been on the rise" in the country but support is a must from all quarters for the results to keep coming.

"This is the only sport that has given medals to the country in three straight Olympics. For the first time, we have a numbers of wrestlers in top 10 rankings. So it is good news for wrestling because our young wrestlers feel they also want to win medals. If we keep winning medals, people's mentality will also change and more and more wrestlers will believe that they can win medals.

"Wrestlers have also been getting sponsorship deals and people have personal sponsors - like I have JSW. For the federation, they have Tata Motors as well. Our wrestlers are performing well which is why we are getting sponsors so it's been good.

"The government has been supporting us well. The Sports Authority of India also has the TOPS scheme, which is to help athletes prepare for the Olympics and get medals. The federation, Sports Authority of India and my personal sponsors, all of them help me whenever I am travelling for any tournament. We can win medals only if we get support from all quarters, nobody can win alone."

Bajrang's partnership with the brand as an ASICS athlete is apt keeping in mind his commitment to his training and performance.

Bajrang further shared a note on the government incentives they receive for winning medals and it turns out that money for winning in the various Championships is awarded to them in a "time bracket of 1-1.5 years.

"For the Games (Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games), we get the incentives quickly and for the Championships, there is a time bracket of one to one and half years, so we get the money accordingly."