Bajrang Punia can count on Georgian support

Georgian coach Shako Bentinidis has played a father-like role in the rise of Indian wrestling star Bajrang Punia.

Not only India but half of Georgia, too, holds its breath every time Bajrang Punia is on the wrestling mat, according to coach Emzarios Shako Bentinidis.

The Haryana grappler is regarded as one of the most promising Indian wrestlers of his generation: Bajrang Punia already has one Asian Games, one Commonwealth Games and two Asian Championships gold medals to his name.

The 26-year-old Bajrang also has won a silver and two bronze medals at the World Wrestling Championships.

A big part of his successful journey has been long-time Georgian coach, Shako Bentinidis.

“Not just India, my country Georgia also supports Bajrang. He has a good fan following here. Half of Georgia supports Bajrang whenever he goes for a medal bout,” he told the Times of India during an interview.

Itching for his India return

Stuck in Georgia due to travel restrictions in place, Shako Bentindis’ training sessions with Bajrang Punia have been restricted to online instructions through calls, video chats and emails.

But that may not be enough and the Georgian coach is eager to rush back to India as soon as possible to prepare his student, the best he can, for his maiden Games.

“Bajrang and I share a father and son relationship. I want to get back to India as soon as possible and train him for the Olympics.

“I miss him so much and want to get back to India to start our training again. Every day, I wake up and think about when I will go back to India and resume training with Bajrang,” noted Shako Bentinidis, who now calls India his second home.

Shako hails Bajrang Punia’s instincts

Born in Georgia, Shako Bentinidis represented his country of birth at Sydney 2000 and is a two-time Olympian for Greece. He took part in the Athens 2004 Games and was a quarter-finalist in the 74kg freestyle event at the Beijing 2008 Games.

In Punia, who has already booked a place for next year’s Tokyo Games courtesy a bronze medal finish at the 2019 World Championships, Bentinidis sees a versatile and aggressive wrestler capable of shining on any stage.

“Bajrang can adapt to any condition and situation. Give him any situation or condition, Bajrang will go for a kill,” he says.

It is that instinct that Bentinidis hopes will carry Punia through to the podium at the Tokyo Olympics.

That would be a moment for all of India to watch. And a significant amount from Georgia too.

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