World Championships silver medallist Deepak Punia has been named the junior freestyle wrestler of the year by United World Wrestling after a stellar season during which he made a phenomenal transition from junior to the senior circuit.
In a breakthrough season, Punia had become the first Indian wrestler in 18 years to win a junior world title. He then backed it up with a silver medal on his debut at the senior World Championships.
“I am feeling very happy. It’s a great honour for me to be selected among all the wrestlers from the world over,” Punia said. “This is really a big source of inspiration for me to keep improving and giving my best.”
The 21-year-old’s maturity, resourcefulness and fearlessness on the big stage made him the only Indian wrestler to make it to the final at Nur-Sultan.
An injury prevented him from taking the mat against Hassan Yazdani of Iran in the final but Punia made it a debut to remember by grabbing a Tokyo Olympics berth in 86 kg as well.
The sterling display propelled him to the world number position in 86 kg in the UWW rankings.
Punia, a 2016 cadet world champion, is putting in the hard yards under the watchful eyes of Beijing Olympics silver medallist and 2003 World Championships silver medallist Murad Gaidarov.
“I have been pretty satisfied with the few days of training we did so far,” he said. “Gaidarov has been working hard on my weaknesses. We had worked on my ground wrestling and my speed work and I feel I am getting better.”
“My confidence level no doubt has been steadily increasing,” he added. “Now I feel more eager and motivated to give my 100 percent at the Tokyo Olympics next year.”
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