WFI seeks new coach for Bajrang Punia months before Tokyo Olympics
Bajrang Punia has decided to part ways with his personal coach Georgian Shako Bentinidis post the World Wrestling Championships. With just nine months left for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Punia has made up his mind to work with a new coach, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) said.
A Russian and a Cuban coach are in the pipeline to train India’s top Olympic contender. Currently, Punia is training with Cuban coach Wilfredo Garcia Quintana at the national camp in Sonepat on a trial basis.
“Quintana will be training Bajrang for a few days, and if he feels the Cuban is good enough, he will continue,” said WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar.
Punia was a favourite to win the 65kg gold at the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, but returned with a bronze. His loss to Kazakh Daulet Niyazbekov in the semi-finals made the federation pose some tough questions about his preparations with personal coach Bentinidis. Punia had been training away from the national camp with Bentinidis and charting his own programme for the last 18 months.
During this time Punia won the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold medals and rose to become world No 1.
Post the World Championships, WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh had discussions with Bentinidis on Punia’s performance and concluded that the wrestler had not shown marked improvement. Punia’s leg defence has been a weak area and that had cost him the World Championship title last year against young Japanese Takuto Otoguro in Budapest. It continued to be a problem area during this year’s World Championships also. “We asked him (Bentinidis) what has Punia learned as his defence was still weak,” Tomar said.
The federation considers Punia a potential medallist at the Tokyo Olympics and wants to monitor his progress.
Punia, himself, refused to comment on the development. “The picture will be clear in the next few days. It will be inappropriate to say anything now. I have full faith in the federation. We will take the best decision in the interest of the country,” Punia was quoted as saying in WrestlingTV.
JSW Sports, which hired Bentinidis as Punia’s personal coach, said it was not aware of any development with regards to Punia hiring another coach.
“I don’t know where it is coming from but he (Bentinidis) is not out. I have not got any clarity from the federation on whether they want a change or not,” said Manisha Malhotra, Head of Sports Excellence and Scouting at JSW Sports.
“As far as Bajrang is concerned it is too late in the day to make a change. In the interest of an Olympic medal we all need to deal with it.”
Tussle over personal coaches
There has been a tussle going on for sometime with some top wrestlers working with their personal coaches. The WFI wants all wrestlers to come under one umbrella and train at the national camp. The federation announced annual central contracts for wrestlers after roping in Tata Motors as sponsors last year.
Meanwhile, WFI has also appointed Russian Murad Gaidarov, the 2008 Beijing Olympics silver medallist, to prepare Ravi Dahiya (57kg) and Deepak Punia (86 kg) for the Olympics. Dahiya won bronze at the World Championships while Punia won silver. Both Dahiya and Punia have also booked berths for the Tokyo Olympics.
In another development, French coach Fanel Carp, who was training Sakshi Malik and Pooja Dhanda, has rejoined the national camp after his salary issue was resolved.
WFI is still looking for a replacement for men’s freestyle coach Hossein Karimi, who was fired after the World Championships just six months into his tenure.