Image credit: Bajrang Punia’s Twitter handle.
CHANDIGARH: He is one of India’s brightest medal prospects in the Tokyo Olympics, deferred by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but ace grappler Bajrang Punia is aware of the threats of being a contender in the 65 kilogram weight category.
Ranked world no.2 in the rankings, three-time world championship medallist Bajrang minced no words in rating his weight category as the trickiest of all as no grappler has managed to win back to back world championship titles in the category.
“I feel 65kg is the toughest category in the world. There is no wrestler who has successively won world championship titles or Olympic gold medals,” said Bajrang while pointing out that the weight category is the most common for most people.
“There is always a new champion in every edition. There are strong wrestlers in this category who can beat anyone on their day,” the grappler said in paddler Mudit Dani’s online live chat show ‘In The Sportlight’.
Rating the level of competition in the world championships higher than that in the Olympics, the 26-year-old Asian Games gold medalist said Indian wrestlers stand a good chance to pocket three to four medals in Tokyo, considering their performances in the world championships.
“I think we will win three to four medals from wrestling in the Tokyo Olympics. The world championship is a tougher tournament than the Olympics but we performed well there,” he said.
“So I think Indian wrestlers are in top form which makes them strong contenders for a medal haul in Tokyo,” added Bajrang, who took the bronze after beating Mongolia’s Tulga Tumur Ochir 8-7 at Nur Sultan in Kazakhstan in the 2019 world championship.
Along with Bajrang, Deepak Punia (silver, 86kg), Vinesh Phogat (bronze, 53kg) and Ravi Kumar Dahiya (bronze, 57kg) also won medals in Kazakhstan to secure Olympic berths.
Picking his 2013 world championship bronze as the most memorable moment of his career, Bajrang was pained at having lost a very good chance to double it in Las Vegas in 2015, where he narrowly missed out on a bronze after having returned from an injury.
Bajrang, however, made up for the lost chances in the 2018 edition in Budapest, where he bagged a silver after losing 9-16 to Takuto Otoguro of Japan in the final. The silver also helped him rocket to the number one spot in the weight category. In 2019, he bagged his third world championship medal to secure the Tokyo Olympics berth.