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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Deepak Punia aims to return stronger and wiser

Deepak Punia, the reigning junior world champion did not take mat against Iranian great Hasan Yazdani due to an ankle injury, sustained during the semi-final.

other-sports Updated: Sep 22, 2019 23:41 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Deepak Punia poses with his medal.
Deepak Punia poses with his medal.(AP)

Deepak Punia’s courage had placed him in front of a rare feat at the World Wrestling Championships. Yet Punia’s body disagreed with him just before the biggest fight of his career, prompting the 86kg wrestler to pull out of the final and settle for a silver medal. Aiming to become only the second Indian wrestler to become a world champion after Sushil Kumar in 2010, Punia faced a very tough opponent in Iran’s Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. The contest never happened as Punia pulled out with a left ankle injury.

“Doctors are saying that it is a ligament pull. I am not able to keep my balance properly. I suffered the injury during my first round bout against home wrestler Adilet Davlumbayev. I was in a lot of pain but I continued. Today morning I did the weigh-in but I was in a lot of discomfort. The doctors and my coaches suggested that I should not compete,” Punia said over phone.

“I agreed with them as I did not want to aggravate the injury. This is the pre-Olympic year and I didn’t want to take my chances. Facing the Iranian was my dream, but I don’t have any control over injuries.”

The first round bout where Punia suffered the injury was a particularly aggressive one, with Davlumbayev cautioned for poking Punia. The Kazakh wrestler even had to concede a point.

“Deepak had informed me about his injury after his first bout. I advised him to not concentrate on the pain. He did not tape the injury because that would have meant the rivals attacking his ankle. Getting an Olympic quota was his top aim. But he did even better by reaching the final,” Virender, Punia’s coach at the Chhatrasal Stadium, said.

Punia, a Naik Subedar with the Indian Army, has been advised 10-days’ rest after which he will resume full scale training. “We want him to work on his upper body as his ankle recovers. A full rest may not be a good idea for him now. We have marked aspects like his ground game and also his leg movement on which we need to work on in the coming time,” Virender said.

For someone who started wrestling at the dangals of Haryana, Punia’s career has been on the fast track. He became the world cadet champion in 2016 and last month became the first Indian to win the World Junior Championship in 18 years. “As a student his best ability is his grasping power. If we show him a move, he will keep practising it. Even when we are teaching the young cadets any new move, he would come and ask us about those moves. This inquisitiveness is a good trait,” he added.

Add to this a grit to succeed at any cost and Punia looks like one who might go the distance. Virender narrated an incident during the World Junior Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. Punia suffered a shoulder injury and also a cut above the eye ahead of his title clash. But the hunger for success was so great that he risked everything. He even fell behind against Russian Alik Shebzukhov in the final but came back strong to clinch gold.

“This was my first senior world championship. Fighting here is an honour and I finished with a silver medal. Had I been able to compete in the final, it would have been better. But I am sure, there would be more such opportunities in the future,” Punia said.

Aware wins bronze

On a day Punia missed the gold-medal bout, Rahul Aware won bronze in 61kg—a non-Olympic category—to ensure India return with the best-ever haul from the World Wrestling Championships.

Aware defeated Tyler Lee Graff, the 2017 Pan-America champion, 11-4 in the 61kg bronze playoff to take India’s tally to five medals. Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Ravi Dahiya also won bronze. India’s previous best show was in 2013, when the team returned with three medals courtesy Amit Kumar Dahiya (silver), Bajrang Punia (bronze) and Sandeep Tulsi Yadav (bronze in Greco-Roman).

Aware had won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and two bronze at the Asian Championships (2009, 2011).