Bajrang Punia on the wrestling loss that transformed his training

Bajrang Punia lost the bronze on a technicality at the World Champs in Las Vegas five years ago. It proved a pivotal moment for the Indian wrestler.

By Naveen Peter

Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia believes that it was the heartbreaking loss at the 2015 World wrestling championships that pushed him to work harder in his career.

After winning his maiden world championship medal in Budapest in 2013, Bajrang went to the Las Vegas world event in 2015 rather underprepared. 

Injuries had kept Bajrang away from the mat for nine months, but despite the gap and a nagging back pain, he did well to reach the bronze medal round in the US. 

However, a loss to Ukrainian Vasyl Shuptar on a technicality meant Bajrang had to return empty handed.

The match against Shuptar had ended 6-6 but it was the Ukranian who won the last point. As per rules, the wrestler who wins the last point in a draw lands the medal.

Wrestler Bajrang Punia will head to Tokyo Olympics as one of India’s prime candidates for a medal.

“Coming so close and losing out on a medal (in 2015) fuelled a hunger inside me,” Bajrang Punia told Firstpost in a recent interview.

“That’s when I decided that I have to win an Olympic gold anyhow. I started training like a mad man.

“That 2015 injury taught me never to give up. It doesn’t matter if no one is supporting you. If you refuse to be defeated in your mind, nothing can defeat you.”

This, however, was not his first bout with an injury. 

An early blow

In 2011, when Bajrang Punia was a regular in the dangal circuit, he had injured his neck that kept him out for close to six-seven months.

With no one by his side, Bajrang Punia, then a raw 17-year-old, had to fend for himself. 

“In 2015, I had every facility I needed: I had great sponsors in JSW Sports, I had my own physio. But in 2011, no one knew me,” Bajrang remembered. 

“There were no sponsors, no physios, and no facilities like I do today. I had to do everything on my own, figure out which doctor to approach and then do my rehabilitation. I’ve emerged after grappling with those things.”

Since then Bajrang Punia has gone from strength to strength.

With two more medals at the world stage (silver in 2018 and a bronze in 2019) and a slew of medals at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Championships, Bajrang Punia has become a top prospect for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

But Bajrang’s past experiences mean he isn’t taking his status for granted. 

“Everyone sees the highs of an athlete’s careers, no one sees the dark days,” the Haryana wrestler pointed out.

“I have realised how much an injury can hamper an athlete’s career. I have to be cautious,” Bajrang said. He surely knows the slip between the cup and the lip.