Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Interview: Indian wrestlers train harder than other nations, says Asiad silver-winning Indian grappler Bajrang Punia

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Sportspersons often look for an ideal opportunity to announce their arrival on the world stage. Nothing can be better than doing it in an international competition in front of the home crowd. Indian freestyle wrestler Bajrang Kumar had kickstarted his international journey claiming a bronze medal in the 60-kg category at the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championship in New Delhi.

The feat of the talented Bajrang is all the more remarkable considering that he was not even picked in the original Indian squad and was only drafted in at the eleventh hour after Yogeshwar Dutt pulled out on injury grounds. The Haryana grappler steadily kept adding to his medal cabinet, winning the bronze medal in the 60-kg category at the 2013 World Wrestling Championship in Budapest, Hungary.

The year 2014 has been a super duper one for Bajrang – he won the silver in the 61-kg category at the 2014 Asian Wrestling Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan, following it up with a silver medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The 20-year-old, who recently landed a job with Railways after much struggle, capped off a hat-trick of silver medal wins this year, finishing second best in the 61-kg category at the Incheon Asian Games.

The demure, soft-spoken grappler touches on many things concerning wrestling in an exclusive interview.

How does it feel to win a silver medal on your Asian Games debut?

Bahut badhiya lag raha hai! Words are not enough to describe how I felt standing on the podium. Ever since I made my international debut last year, I have never returned from any tournament empty-handed and I want to thank the Almighty for his blessings.

You fought a total of four bouts en route to the silver-winning feat. Can you walk us through all those bouts?

All the bouts were equally tough. My opening round against Mongolia’s Tumenbileg was hard-fought as I was trailing him from the start before clawing my way back. I played Tajikistan’s Farkhodi in the quarterfinals, which again was keenly contested. I faced Japan’s Noriyuki in the semifinals – Yogeshwar Dutt had beaten him in the final to win the gold at the 2008 Asian Wrestling Championship and had given his valuable inputs and I planned my strategy accordingly.

My final opponent Masoud of Iran was formidable – I had lost to him 0-11 in the 2014 Asian Wrestling Championship final in Astana earlier this year and had earlier lost to him once 0-6. I gave my best but struggled to get a grip of him as I was sweating. There is no disgrace in losing to a better wrestler as winning and losing is part of sport.

You have often talked of Yogeshwar Dutt as a big guiding force behind all your success.   

Yogeshwar is a champion wrestler and both of us stay together in national camps. He keeps pointing out my strengths and also identifies my shortcomings. He has so much experience and is like a ‘big brother’ for me. His inputs in Incheon really helped besides all the guidance from our coaches.

You made your international debut at the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championship in New Delhi. You were not picked in the original Indian squad, but was only included at the eleventh hour as Yogeshwar Dutt was injured. Your thoughts.

I have fond memories of that tournament as it was my international debut in the senior category. Yogeshwar bhai had to pull out due to an injury and he told me to put my best foot forward and ensure his absence was not felt. I went on to a bag a bronze and was elated that I was able to win a medal for my country – the fact that it was my debut made it all the more sweeter.

Don’t you think Indian wrestling is really blessed having two champions – Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt – assisting our young grapplers a luxury most other nations don’t enjoy?

Absolutely! We are fortunate to have Sushil and Yogeshwar around us. They always keep motivating us and always tell us ‘you are the best’ and that you can beat anyone on the mat. Both are very humble and make you feel at ease.

Do you think the Indian wrestlers command a lot of respect on the world stage?

! Ever since Sushil Kumar won bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and gold at the 2010 World Championship, India has build a reputation of being a wrestling power. Our stock only increased after Sushil and Yogeshwar bagged silver and bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. I think wrestlers from other countries take us seriously.

Do you think preparation-wise training methods of Indian wrestlers are different from other nations?

I can say with confidence that our wrestlers slog more than grapplers from other nations. We train for 7/8 hours a day, but playing against various opponents I can say they lack the endurance our grapplers have. They don’t train as hard as our wrestlers.

Yogeshwar Dutt has said that the men’s hockey team gold is important for the country than his wrestling gold at the Asiad. What’s your take?

Actually, both of us were at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium watching the India-Pakistan men’s hockey final. We were initially tensed as India conceded an early goal, but went into raptures as we won in shootout. Sreejesh did a fantastic job in the shootout. Hockey gold was important for the country and we were happy our boys did it.

The writer can be contacted at: suhridbarua@gmail.com

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