Bajrang Punia seeks quality competition, ‘Can't win medals in gyms,’ says star wrestler

Bajrang Punia will be playing in a ranking tournament in Rome to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. 

By Utathya Nag

All set to compete at the Matteo Pellicone Rome Rankings Series in March, Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia is eyeing regular competitions to get himself in rhythm for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Bajrang Punia is one of the four Indian wrestlers, who have already qualified for the Summer Games in Tokyo, scheduled for July this year.

Like many athletes around the world, the past year saw Bajrang Punia sidelined due to COVID-19. He did try to keep himself in shape with a two-month training camp in the USA, but competitions have been few and far between.

“You cannot win medals simply by training in gyms. Tournament exposure is vital to bring out the best in an athlete,” Bajrang Punia told the Olympic Channel.

“Tournaments let you finetune your performance and help you understand your flaws better,” he added. “Only by participating in tournaments you can know whether to focus more on power, speed or stamina.”

Bajrang Punia’s last international wrestling event before the pandemic was the Asian Wrestling Championships in February 2020. He opted to skip the Individual World Cup in Belgrade in December.

During his training stint in America, Bajrang competed in and won an eight-man FloWrestling event but it was an unofficial invitational tournament.

Though he was training and sparring regularly, Bajrang recounted how difficult it was for him to compete in a competitive bout, even at an invitational.

“The first bout was almost like an out of body experience. It just didn’t feel like it was my body on the mat. I had to push myself to the limits to win. It got a bit better in the second bout and more so in the one after that,” Bajrang Punia recalled.

The three-time world championships medallist also admitted that constant quarantines just to train and compete has been tough.

“Not just me, it’s the same with every athlete. You have to quarantine for days and you can do only so much while being holed up in a room. It’s a tough time to be a sportsperson. I can only hope that COVID gets tackled soon and things normalise,” he noted.

Asked if he was working on anything specific to aid his medal charge in Tokyo, the Indian wrestler opted to remain coy.

“Some things should remain secret,” Bajrang noted. “Let’s say I am working on fixing my flaws and basics like speed and power.”

“In wrestling, most of us know a lot about each other’s preparations. But with the Olympics approaching, we can’t put plans out in the open,” he added.