Bajrang Punia ramping at training with coach Bentinidis back by his side
India’s top wrestler Bajrang Punia’s training has been bolstered with the return of his coach Shako Bentinidis from Georgia to renew his preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. After serving the mandatory quarantine period, Bentinidis joined Bajrang at the Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS) in Karnataka this week.
“I am thankful to Shako that amidst the pandemic and rising cases he has returned to India to prepare me for the Olympics. He has taken a big risk,” Bajrang, the 65kg freestyle wrestler, said on Friday.
India are chasing medals in wrestling for the fourth Olympics in a row, after Sushil Kumar (2008 bronze, 2012 silver), Yogeshwar Dutt (2012 bronze) and Sakshi Malik (2016 bronze) achieved podium positions. Bajrang is expected to maintain that tradition in the Tokyo Games next year.
In such testing times, the support of those around a wrestler becomes crucial. “It’s a difficult period for every athlete but if you have the right people around you, you will remain motivated; it depends on the support staff to keep an athlete motivated,” Bajrang said during a webinar interaction marking two years of IIS at Bellary.
Having qualified well in advance for the Tokyo Olympics, Bajrang is working on sharpening his technique, especially defence. In his last competition, the Asian championships in February held in New Delhi, Bajrang lost to formidable Japanese rival Takuto Otoguro in the final. He had lost to him in the final of the 2018 world championships as well.
Bajrang, who has been training with sparring partner Jitender Kumar since June, is confident looking ahead to the Olympics. “Shako is always beside me. He decides my training and strategies for my bouts. My opponents are also watching my bouts so I have to strengthen my technique. Coach also says ‘you need to make small changes to improve’. The Olympics is a big platform, but if you look at it positively, it is also easier than the world championships. There we get 40-50 wrestlers in one (weight division), in Olympics we will have a draw of 16 wrestlers this time, so we are planning by keeping that in mind,” said Bajrang, who won bronze at last year’s world championships.
The national camp for the Olympics-bound wrestlers starts on September 1 in Sonepat (men) and Lucknow (women). The world championships are scheduled in Serbia from December 4.
“Whenever the competition starts we have to be ready. I am in a better space than those who have not qualified for the Olympics. I have to keep working hard and wait for competition to begin. I did not stop training for a single day during the lockdown. I got equipment at home and was training with my sparring partner (Jitender). I am very positive about the Olympics.
“The Tokyo Olympics is going to happen, and I am very positive. I have been at the IIS centre, using the best facilities to get quality training. I hope once competition starts I can show improvement in my performance and be ready for the Olympics.”