Bajrang Punia looking to improve ranking ahead of Olympics, says coach

Bajrang Punia was defeated by Japan’s Takuto Otoguro at the recently concluded Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi.

World no. 2 in the 65kg category Bajrang Punia, who sealed his 2020 Olympics berth last year by reaching the World Wrestling Championships semi-final, is now targeting to further improve his standing in hope of a better seeding at Tokyo 2020.

His coach Shako Bentinidis has chalked out three tournaments where the Indian could achieve that.

“We are only looking to improve our rankings ahead of the Olympics,” said his Georgian coach, Shako Bentinidis, in an interview with the Wrestling TV website.

For that, the Indian wrestler and the coach are considering the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov tournament, and the Canada Cup along with the Ranking Series in Poland in June. A decision to participate will be taken “according to the demand of the situation.”

Hype overbearing for Bajrang Punia

The Haryana grappler had taken very little time to become a fan favourite. After his gold medal feats at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the 2018 Asian Games and the 2019 Asian Wrestling Championships, the Indian wrestler was the top-pick to win the Asian Championships in Delhi last month.

The 26-year-old was, however, stunned 2-10 by Japan’s Takuto Otoguro in the final of the Asian Championships in New Delhi as Bajrang Punia had to settle for a silver.

Bajrang Punia was often found in an unusual position as Takuto Otoguro seemed to have a reply to every attacking move of his opponent. Photo: UWW
Bajrang Punia was often found in an unusual position as Takuto Otoguro seemed to have a reply to every attacking move of his opponent. Photo: UWWBajrang Punia was often found in an unusual position as Takuto Otoguro seemed to have a reply to every attacking move of his opponent. Photo: UWW

“Playing in front of the home crowd can be stressful,” Bentinidis pointed out. “But I feel there was unnecessary hype around him, which had put mental pressure on Bajrang to perform better.”

Coach Shako Bentinidis, whom Bajrang Punia had personally recommended after the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) had decided that top grapplers get dedicated coaches, however, believes that the wrestler did well in experimenting techniques that the duo had been practising in training.

“Bajrang is very strong and hardworking but his critics need to understand wrestlers cannot be at the top every time,” Bentinidis explained.

No favourites in 65kg

The 65kg weight category, considered one of the toughest in the 2020 Olympics, is highlighted by Russian powerhouse Rashidov Gadzhimurad, who won the World Wrestling Championships and the Wrestling Cup last year, and Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov, the silver medallist at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships.

And despite Bajrang Punia doing well in the last two years building up to the 2020 Olympics in the weight category, coach Shako Bentinidis is taking nothing for granted sheerly because of the competition the Indian wrestler will face.

Besides Rashidov Gadzhimurad and Daulet Niyazbekov, the challenge in the weight category has also been stiffened by Takuto Otoguro, the promising Al Haji Mohamad and Ilias Bekbulatov, who has shifted from the 70kg.

“There are no favourites as the field has become very unpredictable. Anybody can win it,” Bentinidis asserted.

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