Home Wrestling How a ‘broken’ Bajrang Punia battled through pain to regain ‘self-respect’ at Tokyo Olympics

How a ‘broken’ Bajrang Punia battled through pain to regain ‘self-respect’ at Tokyo Olympics

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When Bajrang Punia returns to India, he will probably be a made man. He has been promised crores of rupees from politicians and governments. His employers – the Indian Railways – will provide him a promotion and there’ll most likely be a number of different sinecures awaiting him. He’s a celeb now, there will probably be no scarcity of clamouring followers. All this because of the blue ribbon with a bronze disc that he now wears round his neck.

Punia knew all this awaited him forward of his bronze medal match towards Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov on Saturday. However that was not what he was combating for when he stepped onto the mat. The one factor that mattered was aatmasamman (self-respect).

That is what Punia was combating for. It is the phrase fathers will use after they attempt to clarify why they take their sons – as Punia’s father had taken him — to the mitti akharas of Jhajjhar, Haryana. There’s honour in being a pehelwan. That is why younger wrestlers like Punia dedicate themselves to this robust sport, enduring discomfort, ache and exhaustion day after day. The prizes, jobs, medals come later. What issues essentially the most is the honour being a wrestler brings.

That is what Punia’s coach Shako Bentinidis advised him too. Bentinidis by no means lacks for inspirational movies – from the flicks Gladiator, or 300 — to share and encourage Punia. However on the day of his bronze medal match, with the Indian trying in detached kind and contending with not one however two accidents, Bentinidis reached out to the Indian utilizing the one phrase he knew that mattered essentially the most to him.

“I told Bajrang. Forget the medal. Forget the money. Forget the fame. Think about your self-respect. You can go back to India with nothing. Or you can return with your head held high. You can return with honour intact,” says Bentinidis.

The three and a half years of exhausting work got here right down to this. Punia is one in all India’s most profitable wrestlers in historical past. He has three medals on the World Championships, in addition to an Asian Video games gold. He had already been chosen because the one to carry the Indian flag on the closing ceremony. Bentinidis advised him none of it mattered. “I said you could throw all those medals away. They were worth nothing. The only bout that mattered was this one.”

Bentinidis knew he had reached the 27-year-old. “He told me ‘Coach, it’s not possible that I lose.’ I saw the fire in his eyes. And I knew he would destroy the Kazakh,” says Bentinidis from Tokyo.

“The moment he stepped in a wrong way or if he was caught in a dangerous position, there was a risk that the ligament would snap completely.”

Shako Bentinidis

All that willpower can be wanted towards the Kazakh. Whereas it was identified that Punia had suffered a knee damage within the month earlier than the Olympic marketing campaign, what was not identified was the extent of the wound or that it had been adopted by one other, shortly after.

“Bajrang suffered a tear in his right knee in the Ali Aliyev tournament. It was bad. We could hear the crack of the ligament right away. There is a tear. Bajrang’s doctor in India suggested we come back to get it treated but we didn’t have the time. We tried to treat it with physical therapy and after a couple of weeks we returned to the mat. In the same session, Bajrang strained a muscle on the back of his left thigh as well,” says Bentinidis. That took one other two weeks off his coaching programme. In the end, Punia shot his knee up with therapeutic plasma and carried on. Nevertheless it was a foul state of affairs. “When we came to the Olympics, our psychology (morale) was very low. This was not the way we had expected to prepare before the Olympics,” he says.

The 2 accidents did not instantly curtail his motion. However they always threatened to irritate themselves. “He could do his technique. But the moment he stepped in a wrong way or if he was caught in a dangerous position, there was a risk that the ligament would snap completely. Every time his leg was caught, I was very nervous because I felt this time it would go,” says Bentinidis.

It was the concern of worsening the damage that brought about Punia to put on a brace round his knee and strap it tightly. It was not the one cause he was cagey in his first couple of bouts although. “The main reason was the shock of competing in the Olympics. I’ve competed in three Olympics so I know just how hard it is. He has competed for so many years but never at the Olympics,” Bentinidis says.

He would nearly get by the primary couple of matches earlier than being stopped in his tracks by Haji Aliyev within the semifinals – establishing his conflict with Niyazbekov.

Within the hours after his victory, Punia would converse of the anxiousness with which he spent that intervening night time. “I was so disappointed. No one can know how bad it was. I went to sleep early because I didn’t want to speak to anyone. But I couldn’t even sleep. I think I must have slept for about two hours that night,” he says.

The following day although, the phrases of his coach fired him up. He would even take off the protecting strapping round his knee. “On the day of the bronze match, I didn’t put tape, because with it, my movement is restricted. It feels like I’m tying the legs. The doctor in Tokyo said I was risking injury but I said it’s the last day, don’t tie my legs up. I didn’t come to participate. I came to win a medal. If I don’t win a medal, it doesn’t matter if I get myself injured further. Even if I was broken, I can rest for a bit and then come back in four months. But I couldn’t return empty-handed,” he says.

The gamble would repay, the knee held up as Punia beat Niyazbekov in a one-sided match. After the match, he hugged Bentinidis. The latter normally tends to physique slam the Indian following the affirmation of a medal – one thing he had accomplished within the Budapest World Championships, for instance – however he knew this time was totally different. Punia in the meantime held up the medal, with solely the barest trace of a smile on the rostrum. Certainly on a day of a lot, Punia’s Olympic medal wasn’t anyplace one of the best Indian results of the day – that belonged to Neeraj Chopra’s gold. After his bout, he would discover only a single member of the Indian media within the combined zone – the remainder have been on the Olympic stadium.

“I am unhappy with the result,” Punia would say later. “I couldn’t do what the country wanted. I will try and improve on this performance in 2024,” he mentioned. However earlier than that Punia will probably be getting his two accidents handled. “I’ll have them treated properly and only then resume training,” he mentioned. However whereas Punia is upset with the color of the medal, Bentinidis is much extra relieved. “I love this bronze much more than if he had won silver. The silver would have been a medal from a match he would have lost. But this bronze medal was so difficult to win. If he had lost here, he would have lost his honour. He would have lost everything,” says Bentinidis.

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