The national lockdown in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have put a few athletes off their track, but Bajrang Punia was not among them.
The Indian wrestler, who returned to off-season practice last month, was in constant contact with his coach Shako Bendinitis, over video calls.
The duo share a close bond and Bajrang Punia’s training received a lift with the Georgian coach’s arrival in India two weeks ago.
Bendinitis completed his mandatory 14-day quarantine period earlier this week and trained with Punia for the first time on Wednesday at the Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) in Vijayanagara, Karnataka.
It was the first time Bajrang Punia trained with his coach since March, when training came to a halt due to the COVID-enforced lockdown.
The Indian wrestler, who won a quota for Indian wrestlers at the Tokyo Olympics with a bronze at the World Championships in Nur-Sultan last year, won gold at the season-opening Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Rome.
The 26-year-old Bajrang Punia then followed it up with a silver at the Asian Wrestling Championships at home in New Delhi.
Bajrang Punia admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic affected his plans as he had prepared with the Tokyo Games in 2020 in mind.
“It is easy to say that we have got another year to prepare but there are a few new things to get used to,” he told the Olympic Channel, referring to practising without another grappler on the mat.
With the government guidelines preventing any sort of body contact training, Bajrang Punia had to train with a dummy.
“The only thing I miss is grappling with a real partner, which is useful for match practice. My goal for gold in Tokyo remains as strong as ever,” said Bajrang Punia.
Bajrang Punia has also been simultaneously working on his weight. He competes in the 65kg category.
“Maintaining that weight throughout the year is always a challenge for wrestlers, especially because we focus on adding more power or working on tactics during the off-season,” he said.
“But reaching the optimum weight is a natural process, it will happen as I get into the groove with my routines on the mat.”