Bajrang Punia, named after the patron deity of Indian kushti, wrote his own name into wrestling lore winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Fighting on a knee that he had injured just a month ago, the 27-year-old beat Kazakhstan's Daulet Niyazbekov in the bronze medal playoff of the 65kg wrestling category at the Makuhari Messe wrestling arena.
India at Tokyo: Saturday updates | Key dates | Athletes | Medal tracker | Full schedule | Latest results
Bajrang had faced Niyazbekov before. He had beaten him recently -- at the Ali Aliyev tournament just a month before the Olympics. He had also lost to the Kazakh once in a controversial bout in the semifinal of the 2019 world Championship. Bajrang had recovered from that loss to return with a bronze medal -- his third at the worlds, an unprecedented feat at that level for an Indian.
None of that would matter should he have returned empty handed from the only tournament that mattered to him -- the Olympics. He had looked a pale shadow of himself in the first day of his competition in Tokyo. The knee, though recovered, had affected his ability to make weight and his movement had been badly restricted in his opening two bouts. He had willed himself to win then. The challenge proved to be too much in his semifinal against Azerbeijan's Haji Aliyev.
He had not spoken to the media after that defeat, but his coach Shako Bentinidis had. "Bajrang needs to get his focus back. It doesn't matter what he has won until now. The biggest bout of his career is tommorow, It is the most important fight of his life, " he had said.
Bajrang had come ready for the battle on Saturday. He had come without the knee brace and strapping he had worn on his hurt knee a day before.
He would fight in the manner that had made him one of the giants of the sport in India already. He pressured Niyazbekov. He weighed on his shoulders. He exhausted him. The Kazakh was content just holding on in the first period. He conceded a point for passivity and then another after being pushed off the mat. In the second Bajrangs pressure finally broke him. He was taken down three times making the score 8-0 for the Indian. There was no counter no answer for the pace and relentlessness from the Indian.
When the final whistle sounded, there were only muted celebrations. Bajrang hugged his coaches then pumped his fist. In the space of six minutes he had gone from a great and passed into legend.