The Tank:
Bajrang Punia

Nicknamed “the Tank” in the Indian wrestling circles, Bajrang Punia won the bronze in freestyle wrestling for India at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. 

As a child in rural India, there were no superheroes. Instead, kids would turn to sports they could afford. Being poor, affording sports which requires equipment like a bat and ball or shuttle as in cricket, or badminton was not practical. So, he opts for free hand sports like Kabaddi or wrestling. He started going to a local mud wrestling akhada (wrestling school) with his father who used to practice there. As a child, he was riveted by strong men and their raw strength. He 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 them, these local strong men became their heroes. My father was one of them. Like many kids, his father became his superhero.

With his eyes set on Tokyo Olympics 2020, Punia had his dream deferred 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. It was a tough ride ahead of them.

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.

Bajrang Punia had lost the World Championships semi-final to the same Niyazbekov in 2019 but when the two wrestlers met in Tokyo olympics, Bajrang had hammered the Kazakhstan wrestler 8-0 by sheer technical superiority.

Growing up in a rural part of the 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.