Deepak Punia, who ended India's 18-year-long dearth of junior world titles last August, has just been named Junior Freestyle Wrestler of the Year by United World Wrestling.
The award is a validation of the productive year on the mats for Punia and the other Indian wrestlers.
A good year
At the 2019 Junior World Championships held in Talinn, Estonia, Punia defeated Alik Shebzukov of Russia to win the 86kg junior freestyle title, becoming the first Indian wrestler since 2001 to win a junior world title, when Ramesh Kumar (69 kg) and Palwinder Singh Cheema (130 kg) had gotten their hands on the yellow metal.
It follows the silver that Punia clinched in the category in 2018 and the bronze, which he narrowly missed out on at the 2017 junior worlds. Prior to that, Deepak Punia had won bronze at the 2016 Cadet World Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia, while fellow Indian Vicky Chahar won gold.
Tokyo ticket punched for Deepak Punia
Then, at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan in September, the fourth-seeded Punia defeated Colombia's Carlos Izquierdo in the quarterfinals and consequently, secured a berth for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He joined the likes of fellow Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Ravi Kumar in the process.
In the same event, Rahul Aware triumphed over former Asian champion and local favourite Kayliyev to reach the last four of the 61kg category.
Currently, Punia is ranked number one in the 86kg category United World Wrestling rankings and will surely be one of India's big bets at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Among the women, it was Japan's Yui Susaki who was named Junior Women's Wrestler of the Year. Susaki clinched her second junior world title on the trot in 2019.