#wrestling @bajrangpunia: In the Middle Of Difficultly Lies OpportunityTweet
Wrestling is a universal language. Since almost the dawn of time, wrestling has been a major part of society. Seeing the translation of the sport across the globe is India’s Bajrang Punia. Punia is a freestyle wrestler at 65 kilograms. He’s had success on the World Championship level, having measles in 2013, 2018, and 2019. Punia seems to be hitting his stride and going into the 2021 Olympic Games, he is looking to capitalize big time.
Bajrang Punia started in wrestling with not much to his name. As a child in India, there were no superheroes. Instead, kids would turn to sports they could afford. Being poor, he and his family couldn’t afford equipment for sports so the community needed to go low-cost. Punia found himself watching wrestling with his father, who also trained. Like many kids, his father became his superhero.
“I belong to rural India. For a kid belonging to a humble background, affording sports which requires equipment like a bat and ball or shuttle as in cricket, or badminton was not practical. So, we as kids opt for free hand sports like Kabaddi or wrestling. I had started going to a local mud wrestling akhada (wrestling school) with my father who used to practice there. As a child, I was fascinated by stong men and there raw strength. I started dreaming about becoming like them. Superheroes derived from any comic book or television shows were a strange concept for a rural kid in India. For me these local strong men were my heroes. My father was one of them. I started to skip school and loiter into the akhada. Soon I started my training there. I never realized when it became a part of me.”
Kabaddi is a contact sport with two teams who are trying to tag each other out and there is plenty of tackling and overall fun. It is very popular in South Asia and is actually the national sport of Bangladesh.
As for Bajrang Punia, the person, he spends his time trying to become a wiser human. Punia knows his predecessors have knowledge to bestow to him and he enjoys spending his time seeking that knowledge. It is one of his favorite pastimes.
“I do a variety of things but spending time with my village elders is always a good thing. Words of wisdom, anecdotes and discussions ranging from society, administration and political matters gives me an insight to a lot if things and is always rewarding. They will casually ask me to prepare tea for them or prepare their hookah and I will have to oblige to it because we don’t deny if the elders ask us to do something, because to them, I am still an village kid.”
Bajrang Punia and the Olympics
Bajrang Punia managed to qualify India in the 2021 Olympic Games by winning his second bronze at the World Championships. With his eyes set on The Games, Punia had his dream postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of the Olympics being held in 2020, they were pushed back to 2021. Don’t be fooled by the extra preparation time, says Punia. The Olympic Games are about timing and peaking right as you go into the Games. Now he has to make sure he does this a year later. He also points to the fact that quarantine has put a damper on his training as well.
“[The virus] has two different point of views. First of which is that it is like a postponed exam which gives one more time to prepare and cover up for the less prepared area, a common understanding among people. But on the other hand, he who understands sports will differ in their way of thinking. I will have to rethink my preparation and start all over again. It is easier said than done. This preparation has even more challenges than simply being postponed for a year. We are in quarantine and we don’t have access to proper training facilities. It’s going to be a tough ride untill the Olympics. Nevertheless, safety comes first, so lets be positive that things will change for good.”
Bajrang Punia has some very unique techniques on the mat, like the foot stomp setup he does above. Punia has learned from many places and picked up many small things that have helped incrementally improve his wrestling.
“All that I do on the mat is my collective knowledge which I have been learning from various sources. I cannot pin point when and why I adopted any particular move. It can be purely instinctive.”
Punia’s Popularity in America
Punia has enjoyed massive popularity from Americans. While he is thankful that Americans have supported him so much, he points out that he does see them criticize their own athletes.
“I am happy that people in America have been so appreciative. America has a huge respect for sports people and to be honest I have seen them being critical to their own sportsmen when they make mistakes.”
But, Punia recognizes that the same criticize apply to him as well. He works hard to stay on top of his game and America has supported him for it. He believes that is the true nature of the sport.
“That’s real sportsmanship and definitely it transcends the concept of nation and nurtures the sport. I love their passion and openness about their opinions. I have been to Colorado Springs for training and the have been very helpful and welcoming.”
Growing Up An Athlete in India
India is not traditionally known as athletes. Growing up in a poor country doesn’t give many kids an opportunity to compete in sports. But Bajrang Punia is optimistic about the future paved by him and other athletes from India. He acknowledged that the road has been hard, but rewarding.
“India has its own share of problems and to be honest its not a easy journey for a sportsman. To belong to a humble background and still prove yourself to get a chance to represent your country is a difficult journey. But India is investing more in sports and a lot of government programs to uplift sports have been started successfully. The future seems bright.”
The future for Punia is wrestling. He feels like it was destiny that brought him to the sport and he will continue to fulfill his destiny as a wrestler for his country.
“Sometimes I think I was born to do wrestling. If I change my profession I might not do so well. So, as per now I will focus on the upcoming competitions and keep doing what I am doing. The almighty has brought me so far, maybe there is more ahead. I will keep doing this.”
Bajrang Punia’s wrestling career is just beginning. He’s ready to take on the Olympic Games and make the next step in his pursuit of trial and error. As the Games near, he will hone his skills to improve, an ever consistent goal.