Experts shower praise on Bajrang Punia for wrestling like a champion

Dronacharya award-winning coach Mahavir Prasad, former wrestler Kripa Shankar Patel noticed how Bajrang protected the injured right knee during the initial bouts.

India's Bajrang Punia reacts after his bout against Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan in the wrestling semifinals on Friday.   -  PTI

Bajrang Punia’s defeat in the men’s freestyle 65kg category semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics may have disheartened many wrestling fans, but experts think the star wrestler has done well to remain in contention for a bronze medal despite his knee issue.

Three-time World championships medallist Bajrang, who earlier allayed fears surrounding his right knee injury that he picked up during a tournament in Russia in June, had his right knee wrapped when he took the mat in his maiden Games on Friday.

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The experienced World No.2 wrestled like a Greco Roman wrestler in his first two bouts against Ernazar Akmataliev of Kyrgyzstan and Morteza Ghiasi of Iran apparently to protect his knee for the semifinals against a stronger opponent.

“Bajrang’s slow starts in the first two rounds were due to his injury. He could not display his natural game,” said Dronacharya award-winning coach Mahavir Prasad.

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International wrestler-turned-coach-cum-referee Kripa Shankar Patel agreed. “In the first bout, everything became very clear. He wrestled for four minutes without letting his knee touch the mat. He adopted a similar strategy against the Iranian as he was preserving himself for the tougher bouts ahead,” said Kripa Shankar, an Arjuna award winner.

“Bajrang applied his mind a lot. The way he stepped out to concede points against the Kyrgyz wrestler and the way he waited for the Iranian to commit a mistake to take advantage were admirable moves.”

Bajrang could not go past Rio Olympics medallist Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan in the semifinals. “Bajrang wrestled well against Aliyev, who is always tough to beat. I remember a fight between the two in the 2019 Pro Wrestling League in Ludhiana, where Bajrang managed a narrow win over Aliyev,” said Mahavir.

Kripa Shankar feels a fitter Bajrang would have given a tougher fight to Aliyev. “Bajrang could not give his best. He could neither attack nor defend properly. Without the knee issue, he would not have given Aliyev a chance to do the ‘fitley’ (double-leg hold twists). Today Bajrang wrestled like a champion. Hope he lands a medal tomorrow,” said Kripa Shankar.

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