Bajrang Punia has got the No. 1 seeding in men’s 65kg freestyle category at the UWW World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

India’s biggest hope for the Tokyo 2020 Games wrestling competitions, Punia will be determined to change last year’s World Championship silver into gold this time and confirm a berth for next year’s Olympic Games.

UWW Wrestling World C’ships set to kick off from Sept. 14

The UWW Wrestling World Championships is all set to kick off in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan from September 14.

Bajrang has progressed from a 60kg bronze in 2013 to a 65kg silver five years later at this prestigious tournament. However, the top podium has been eluding him so far. The elite grappler is determined to end that long wait as he aims to become only the second Indian since Sushil Kumar senior-level freestyle wrestling gold in 2010.

In the past one year, the 25-year-old has not just been crowned the champion of Asia but has even climbed to the pinnacle of the world rankings in the 65kg. His multiple training and exposure trips have added to his intelligence on the mat and enhanced his ability to gauge the opponents more swiftly.

Bajrang training abroad

“Training abroad with foreign athletes has helped me grow as a wrestler,” said Bajrang. “Sparring with some of the best names in Georgia, Russia and the USA has made me more aware of my opponents. Besides having my own team of coach, physio, trainer and sports science support staff has benefited me a lot and instilled a lot of confidence into me ahead of the World Championships which is also an Olympic qualifier this time.”

Bajrang has been in Russia in order to fine-tune certain aspects of his game, especially his leg defence, ahead of the World Championships.

With the battle for Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification starting with this event, United World Wrestling (UWW) is leaving no stone unturned to provide the best of preparation and technical assistance to potential qualifiers.

In UWW’s largest-ever training camp that started on September 4 at the Olympic Cycling Centre in Saryarka, wrestlers will get an opportunity to get acclimatized to the conditions before facing the world’s best in Nur-Sultan.

“It’s a very good initiative taken by UWW ahead of such a big event. All wrestlers will be eyeing Olympic berths at the World Championships this time and an acclimation camp can help them to be ready for the challenge,” said Punia.

Vinesh sets eyes on maiden World C’ship medal

While most of the Indian squad has left for the training camp, Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat has stayed back to train rigorously as she sets her sights on her maiden World Championships medal. Currently ranked No. 6 in the world, Vinesh’s switch to 53kg has worked out well as she has scooped up gold medals in three consecutive tournaments in the last couple of months.

Seema, Aware & Deepak land top-4 seedings

In 50kg, Seema is another medal hope to watch out for. A gold medal at Yasar Dogu 2019 Ranking Series has propelled her to No. 3 in the world, landing her the No. 2 seed.

In men’s freestyle, the return of Sushil Kumar (74kg) to the worlds after eight years makes him a top medal prospect as he yet again looks to relive his golden glory after nine years. Rahul Aware has grabbed the second seed in 61kg while Deepak Punia has been seeded fourth in 86kg, further raising India’s hopes of their best-ever show.

Winning gold boosted my confidence: Deepak

“My training has gone really well and I am excited to make my World Championships debut. Winning a gold at the World Junior Championships last month has boosted my confidence level and I am eager to give my all,” said Deepak who ended India’s 18-year-old medal drought at the Junior World Championships.

The 2019 Wrestling World Championships, which will be held from September 14-22, will begin with the Greco-Roman competition. Around 1,000 wrestlers from 101 nations will be vying for medals across Greco-Roman, freestyle and women’s wrestling categories for 9 days.

Full Indian Squad:

Freestyle wrestling:

57 Kg: Ravi Kumar, 61 Kg – Rahul Aware, 65 Kg – Bajrang Punia, 70 Kg – Karan, 74 Kg – Sushil Kumar, 79 Kg – Jitender, 86 Kg – Deepak Punia, 92 Kg – Parveen, 97 Kg – Mausam Khatri, 125 kg – Sumit.

Women’s Wrestling:

50 Kg: Seema, 53 Kg – Vinesh, 55 Kg – Lalita, 57 Kg – Sarita, 59 Kg – Pooja Dhanda, 62 Kg – Sakshi Malik, 65 Kg – Navjot Kaur, 68 Kg – Divya Kakran, 72 Kg – Komal Bhagwan Gole, 76 kg – Kiran.

Greco-Roman wrestling:

55 Kg: Manjeet, 60 Kg – Manish, 63 Kg – Sagar, 67 Kg – Manish, 72 Kg – Yogesh, 77 Kg – Gurpreet Singh, 82 Kg – Harpreet Singh, 87 Kg – Sunil Kumar, 97 Kg – Ravi, 130 kg – Naveen.