Bajrang Punia aims to peak during Tokyo Olympics

Bajrang Punia, who has already qualified for Tokyo 2020, believes it is important to be sensitive to the coronavirus crisis at a humanitarian level.

Bajrang Punia plans to train with the belief that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics won't be cancelled.   -  Getty Images

The spread of coronavirus beyond the confines of the epicentre China has wreaked havoc with the schedules of a number of Indian Olympic hopefuls. 

In wrestling, the Olympic qualifying tournament scheduled from March 27 to 29 in Kyrgyzstan now stands cancelled. Sakshi Malik, a bronze medallist from Rio 2016, has just one more opportunity (in May in Bulgaria) to make the grade and is hoping that the outbreak doesn’t “crush her dreams.”

Though it doesn’t affect Bajrang Punia, one of India’s biggest medal prospects, as he has already qualified for Tokyo 2020, the 26-year-old said it was important to be sensitive to the crisis at a humanitarian level.

“A lot of people have died and that's horrible,” Bajrang said at an event held to announce an association between JSW Group's Inspire Institute of Sport and Herbalife Nutrition. “It's not only about athletes, it's about every person. As athletes in this country, we don't have to worry about it. But you can't just ignore it.”

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“China, Italy, Iran and many places in Europe…people can't come from there or go there. What if there is an emergency and they can’t travel?”

Thus far the Tokyo 2020 authorities have been steadfast in their belief that the Olympics will go ahead as scheduled. It is with this certainty that Bajrang plans to train, though he is unsure of the events he will take part in to fine-tune his preparations.

“My target is to peak during the Olympics,” Bajrang said. “Every wrestler, including me, comes to the Olympics with the dream of winning a medal. I should not make any mistakes. My category (65 kg) is a tough one. There are around 12-13 wrestlers who can beat anyone. ”

At the recent Asian Wrestling Championship at home, Bajrang lost to Japan’s Takuto Otoguro, an opponent who he had failed to defeat in the 2018 World Championship title clash too.

“I couldn’t give my 100%. There was pressure and a few days before that I had typhoid. But I am working on my weaknesses. My leg defence has improved. Also, I used to concede points early and would recover later in the contest. I need to work towards that a bit more.”