Bajrang’s meteoric rise

By becoming the first Indian wrestler to win two World Championship medals, Bajrang Punia has placed himself alongside all-time greats Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, K.D. Jadhav and Sakshi Malik.

India's Bajrang Punia after winning his semifinal bout against the 2017 World Championship bronze medallist Alejandro Valdes Tobier of Cuba, in Budapest on Sunday.   -  Special Arrangement

By becoming the first Indian wrestler to win two World Championship medals, Bajrang Punia has placed himself alongside all-time greats Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, K.D. Jadhav and Sakshi Malik.

Unlike the quartet of Olympic medallists, Bajrang has not won an Olympic medal yet. But the 24-year-old from Khudan village in Haryana has age on his side to accomplish the target in 2020.

Budapest has again turned out to be a lucky venue for Bajrang, who had moved from his mentor Yogeshwar’s shadow to land a bronze medal in 60kg in the 2013 World championships.

From there, he kept on improving to get medals in almost all major events. Following his switch to 65kg in 2017, Bajrang’s consistency has been amazing.

Run of success

Bajrang’s string of fabulous performances in the current calendar — in which he has bagged gold medals in the Commonwealth and Asian Games, a bronze in the Asian championships and a silver in the World under-23 championships apart from the World championships medal — reminds one of Sushil Kumar’s prolific showing (gold medals in the Asian championships, Commonwealth Games and the World championships) in 2010.

The contribution of Georgian Shako Bentinidis, who joined Bajrang’s coaching staff earlier this year, has been significant.

Yogeshwar notices a change in Bajrang’s approach.

“After winning so many medals, Bajrang has gathered a lot of self-confidence. His experience of wrestling with most of the competitors helped him in the Worlds. He has improved his defence of legs and does not give away points easily,” said Yogeshwar.

With the Tokyo Olympics in sight, Bajrang will be keen to take his game to a different level.

“He is capable of winning a medal in the Olympics. He needs to remain fit and work on minor shortcomings,” said Yogeshwar.