Bajrang Punia bemoans knee injury after Tokyo bronze
- Bajrang Punia was injured in June during a tournament in Russia in the build-up to the Olympics and he was a touch tentative, until he discarded the knee protection coming into the playoff.
Bajrang Punia was far from his attacking self at the Tokyo Olympics until he switched to aggression mode in the bronze medal playoff against Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov to claim a medal. Punia said the protective tape and cap on his right knee had hampered him in earlier rounds
India’s best wrestling hope was injured in June during a tournament in Russia in the build-up to the Olympics and he was a touch tentative, until he discarded the knee protection coming into the playoff.
“If I had gone all out in my semi-final bout the result could have been different,” he said, referring to the defeat against Azerbaijan’s Haji Aliyev. “With the knee strapping, it was difficult with the movements to go for attack. I had fear while going for the attack.”
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Punia was advised by doctors in Russia to return to India and focus on recovery.
“I was advised rest. I could not have done that with the Olympics so close, so I did the rehabilitation in Russia. I was off mat training for 15-20 days.”
Aliyev, a three-time world champion and 2016 Rio Games bronze medallist, scored a dominating 12-5 victory. Without the knee tape in the playoff, Punia overcame Niyazbekov, who beat him in the world championships semifinal in 2019. Punia won 8-0.
“I told myself this is a fight for which I have to give everything. I knew it was my last chance and even if I got injured it didn’t matter, I will have enough time to recover. This opportunity will not come. If I had played the same way in the semi-final, it could have been a different result. But the knee made it difficult,” he said.
Punia said he was just happy that despite the injury he is able to return home with a medal.
“I am happy of course, but not very happy. I’m relieved and happy… Everyone supported me during this time.”
Punia was happy that India could achieve their best medal tally of seven, surpassing 2012 London. He said people should not put pressure of performance on athletes.
“Many players have performed well but I want to tell everyone not to put pressure on athletes. Every player comes out with his best, if not this Games they will win in the next Olympics. If I had not won a medal I would have been criticised. I am on the mat for myself, I do all the hard work in training to win medals for the country.”
He will look to regain his best at the world championships in Norway from October 2-10. “I will take a small break, recover from this injury and come back for the world championships. The Paris Olympics is the next target."