Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, wrestler Deepak Punia is high on confidence, especially on the back of a stunning 2019 which saw him achieve multiple feats. Punia, 20, will be representing India in the freestyle 86-kg category after clinching a quota berth by winning a silver medal at the Senior World Wrestling Championship in Nur-Sultan Kazakhstan.

It could have been a gold for the 20-year-old had Punia not injured himself ahead of the final against Iran’s Hassan Yazdani. But it didn’t take the sheen of an otherwise impressive year for the wrestler. Prior to his silver-medal finish, Punia became the first Indian wrestler in 18 years to win gold at Junior World Wrestling Championships before being named the Junior Freestyle Wrestler of the Year by United World Wrestling.

All these achievements combined, Punia is confident of realising his long-awaited dream of winning an Olympic medal. He is training at the Chhatrasal Akhada, where under the guidance of two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar, the young wrestler is fine tuning himself.

“My confidence level has been increasing with every passing tournament. Getting a medal at the Olympics is a realistic target for me,” Punia told Times of India. “I am very fortunate to practice with Sushil bhai. Every day, I learn a lot from him. At the Worlds, I hurt my ankle in the first round itself. It was very difficult to continue, but I was able to do so mainly due to Sushil bhai’s continuous encouragement.”

Besides Suhil’s guidance, Punia also is being monitored by Murad Gaidarov, silver medallist from 2008 Beijing Olympics, who was appointed by the Wrestling Federation of India to assist the 20-year-old. And the results have been quite positive with Punia becoming the No/ 1 wrestler in the world in the 86-kg bracket.

“He (Gaidarov) has been overseeing my training sessions. He has a wealth of experience and he is passing on that to me. I know there is a lot of scope for improvement,” Deepak added.

Virender Singh Dalal, Punia’s childhood coach narrated how the wrestler was always aggressive in his tactics. “Deepak’s strength is his aggression and tremendous flexibility on the mat. He was aggressive right from the beginning when he started wrestling at the age of seven years. He drew the attention of wrestling fraternity for the first time at the age of 15 when he defeated Satyawart Kadian – the husband of Sakshi Malik – at a national championship,” he recalled.