Attack was the mantra for Olympian wrestler Bajrang Punia

Despite nursing a knee injury, Bajrang Punia clinches 65kg bronze after outclassing Kazakh opponent Niyazbekov 8-0.

Published: 08th August 2021 10:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th August 2021 10:59 AM   |  A+A-

Bajrang Punia is in complete control during his bronze medal playoff.

Bajrang Punia is in complete control during his bronze medal playoff. (Photo| PTI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: With no heavy strapping around his right knee, unlike Friday, wrestler Bajrang Punia has issued a warning to his Kazakh opponent Daulet Niyazbekov when he took the mat at the Makuhari Messe Hall for the bronze medal play-off on Saturday evening. The message was loud and clear. The Indian wrestler will be at his aggressive best irrespective of a knee injury he has been carrying into the Games.  

The move seems to have given him a psychological edge over his rival, who in fact had won against him in the 2019 World Championships final, as Niyazbekov was put on the activity clock for being passive in the first period itself. It also earned Bajrang the first point of the most important bout of his career so far.
“The strategy was to attack from the beginning. No headlock, no fleeing away from the mat or the hold,” Shako Bentinidis, Bajrang’s Georgian coach, told this daily from Japan after the win. “Injury or not, the strategy was simple. Keep attacking as that is how Bhaji plays,” added the coach.

Given the decision he has made going into the bout, Bajrang tried to attack the opponent’s leg but didn’t succeed initially. He, however, managed to push the opponent outside the mat earning another point and taking a lead of 2-0 after the first period of three minutes. “Bajrang gained the upper hand the moment he entered the mat without strapping or knee cap and that showed later in the bout. He was constantly putting his injured right leg forward inviting the Kazakh wrestler to get the hold of it. It gave him psychological edge, which only grew as the bout progressed,” said Kripashankar Patel, former India wrestler and Railways coach.

Bajrang also admitted that the knee injury troubled him a lot at the Games. “I would have played different but for this injury. It indeed was an issue. It did trouble me and played on my mind. But I did not have the option to rest. After the semifinal, I had to give my all and I did that,” the 65kg wrestler was quoted as saying after the win.

The Haryana wrestler was at his best in the second period as he kept attacking Niyazbekov’s right leg and executed a take-down to earn two points. He repeated it soon to race to a 6-0 lead. And yet another attack on the left leg earned Bajrang two more points which took the bout away from his opponent.

“It was a do or die bout for Bajrang and the strategies must have been chalked accordingly. He had nothing to lose and he competed in that manner. Going all out was the only option and he didn’t disappoint. The only regret which I have is that he should have played like this in the semifinal as well,” opined Patel.

Despite clinching a medal at the grandest stage, Bajrang is not satisfied. “I am not happy. This is not the result I had set out to achieve. Winning an Olympic medal is no mean achievement but I can’t jump with joy with bronze,” he said.

Bajrang has a reason for being disappointed as the second-seed was expected at least to reach the final. The three-time World medallist, however, has time to redraw his strategies and come back stronger. For the moment, he can cherish the moment as he is the only seventh wrestler from the country to win an Olympic medal.

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