Bajrang Punia determined to win gold at Asian Games

The 24-year-old admits a change in technique and an improved stamina has helped his game.

Determined den: The wrestling contingent at a send-off ceremony in New Delhi.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

His last seven tournament outings have all ended with him on the podium, five of them on top. Bajrang Punia, the 24-year old considered both a protégé and successor to Yogeshwar Dutt, has been in the best form of his career since September 2017 and, not surprisingly, is firm favourite for gold at the upcoming Asian Games.

He has always been considered talented but for a long time, the big wins remained elusive for Punia, who also fights in the 65kg freestyle. He admits a changed technique has helped, with the emphasis now as much on scoring points till the end as on holding off the opponent early on.

“Earlier, I used to attack early and try to get points but ended up conceding and then fighting to recover lost ground. A bout is just six minutes, you do not have much time. Now I try to hold on for the first 1-2 minutes and then fight my own game to score the points,” he told Sportstar at an interaction here on Sunday.

‘All about fighting till the last second’

“My game has always been about stamina, about fighting back. Now I have worked much harder on improving it. Earlier I used to concede points towards the end, now it is all about fighting till the very last second. The presence of foreign coach (Georgian Emzario Bentinidis) has helped a lot. Besides, Yogi (Yogeshwar) bhai is always there to guide me,” he added.

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Even as Vinesh Phogat — the other favourite for a medal — laughingly interjected to warn him of not revealing too much, Punia remained unperturbed. “Eventually I have to fight for six minutes on the mat, that is what matters, nothing else. Everyone knows everyone else's game, it is the actual action that counts,” he shrugged.

‘Everyone can be defeated’

His recent stints in Georgia and Turkey — where the Indian wrestlers participated in training camps and competition — have helped increase his confidence. “No opponent is easy but everyone can be defeated as well. When you train and compete against the best, Olympic medallists and world champions, you learn a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses also,” he said.

While Yogeshwar loved the Fitle — literally, tying up his opponents in knots — Punia says he prefers anything that helps him win a bout. But the dhobi pachhad (shoulder throw) remains his favourite even if it isn't the easiest of moves in international wrestling. “He only keeps telling me 'I have not seen anyone work as hard as you and every time you go to a competition, you can win a medal because you are the best and you deserve it,'” Punia said, but the 2014 Asiad silver medalist is not satisfied with any medal any more.

Medal to gold hi hota hai, baki sab to bas consolation prize hote hain. Ab to wohi lena hai (Medal is only gold, others are consolation prizes. This time, I have to gain only that),” he declared.