Tokyo, Aug 8:
On the wrestling mat, Bajrang Punia pulled off a bronze medal on Olympic debut after outwitting Daulet Niyazbekov in the men’s freestyle 65kg play-off.
The medal-winning performance saved the 27-year-old and the Indian wrestling contingent from embarrassment since the wrestlers had entered Tokyo with high expectations.
“I am not happy. This is not the result I had set out to achieve. Winning an Olympic medal is no mean achievement but I can’t jump with joy with bronze,” Bajrang told PTI.
On a chilly winter morning, an 11-year-old Bajrang Punia placed pillows on his bedstead and covered them under a sheet to create an impression that he is sleeping there, and left for his ‘Akhada’ at 2:00am to practice ‘kushti’ moves with his friends.\When he returned home seven and a half hours later, his mother Om Pyari asked when did he leave? As usual, he lied, saying 4:00 a.m. His mother knew that he was hiding the truth but did not scold him. After all, wrestling was in his blood. His father and elder brother, too, were ardent practitioners of the sport. His mother told him only one thing, “Never cry my boy after losing. Never appear weak in front of others. Take defeats in your stride and keep improving.”
It was neither his home nor his school but his Akhada (training centre) or the ‘Dangals’ (mud wrestling competition) where he wanted to be all the time.
He could remain inside the walls of his school only till the attendance was marked. Once he had said, ‘present sir’, he would not be found in the class room.Such was his love and passion for wrestling since childhood.
All he wanted was to wrestle. It did not matter if the rivals were his weight and age or stronger and older.
At a Dangal in Machhroli village in 2008, when he would weigh about 34kg, Bajrang insisted that he be allowed to wrestle but the competition was meant for those who weighed about 60kg.
“After the organisers gave in to his cajoling and we also let him, he wrestled and pinned that guy,” Bajrang’s brother Harinder, who was also a wrestler, said.
It was coach Arya Virender, who first began his training at Chhara indoor stadium and worked with him for three years.
His spark and talent was difficult to ignore, and in 2008, he was enrolled at the famous Chhattrasal stadium by his father Balwan Singh. In two years, he became an Asian Cadet champion and defended the title in 2011.
In his seven years spent at the famous training centre, which had given the country Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang won the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games medal to gradually rise to stardom.
His biggest success came when he claimed the 2018 World Championship silver and had been harbouring hopes of winning an Olympic medal since then.