Jakarta AUG 20,
On Sunday, wrestler Bajrang Punia clinched India’s first gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games, beating Japan’s Daichi Takatani 11-8 in the Men’s Freestyle 65 kg event in Jakarta. In April this year, he had won gold in the Commonwealth Games in the same weight category.
Punia hails from Haryana, which is regarded as the cradle of Indian wrestling. Backed by his father, he took up the sport at the age of 7. His family moved to Sonepat so he could train at the Sports Authority of India.
Punia has been training under Olympian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, whom he considers his hero and mentor.
In the 2013 Asian Championships in New Delhi, Punia took bronze after he went down in the semi-final bout in the 60 kg category. In the World Championships in Budapest the same year, he won bronze again.
It was a sign of things to come, when in the following year, he won silver both in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Incheon Asian Games (both in the 61 kg category). He made the move to the 65 kg category in order to compete in the Olympics.
Punia bagged gold medals in the Commonwealth Championships in 2016 and 2017. He also took the top spot in the Asian Championships last year in New Delhi.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Punia bettered his Glasgow effort, beating Welshman Kane Charig by technical superiority in a bout that lasted just over a minute.
Six months ago, Punia had gone down to Takatani in the semifinals of Asian Championships in Bishkek, the only instance among the last seven tournaments where he failed to make the final.
In Jakarta, Punia began well against the Japanese, leading 6-0 in 1.16 minutes. But Takatani came back strongly to make it 6-6. Punia fought back to make it 10-8, before a last-second challenge from the opposition was rejected to give Punia gold.
“I am gunning for Olympics and so immediately after this, training for the World Championships will start,” Punia said after opening India’s gold tally.
Jakarta AUG 20,