ENDING AN 18-year wait for India in the World Junior Championship, Haryana wrestler Deepak Punia Wednesday clinched gold in the 86kg category event in the Estonian city of Tallinn.
The 19-year-old son of a milkman from Jhajjar became the best junior in the world with a comeback win over highly rated Russian Alik Shebzukhov. He also overcame the heartbreak from the previous edition’s final, where he had lost narrowly.
Speaking to The Indian Express from his home in Chhara village, Punia’s father Subhash said: “Deepak has made my chest swell with pride. When he was a child, I used to take him to wrestling bouts in our village as I loved the sport. Apart from owning a three-acre farm, I also ran a business of managing 10 buffaloes and five cows, and would travel to Delhi daily to sell milk. Those days of struggle are worth it now.”
In Tallinn, as the countdown clock ticked over, Punia was trailing 2-0. But then, he clawed back and drew level with a neat takedown just before the final whistle. The rules state that if both wrestlers end level, the one who claimed the last point would be adjudged winner.
With the win, Punia has become the first Indian to top this marquee tournament since 2001, when Palwinder Cheema (130kg) and Ramesh Gulia (69kg) both claimed gold. Punia’s opponent, Shebzukhov, is considered one of the best in his age group and had claimed fifth spot in the senior national championship in Russia.
On his way to the final, Punia started with a 10-1 win over Hungarian Milan Koresog in the pre-quarterfinal before storming past Canada’s Hunter Lee. He was a bit off-colour in the semifinal against Georgian Miriani Maisuradze, trailing 2-1 till the penultimate minute before wrapping up a 3-2 win.
Junior coach Parvesh Kumar Mann said: “His wins have come against strong opponents and some of the top junior wrestlers from Europe. Last year, he lost narrowly in the final but wanted to avenge that loss today. He remained aggressive right from the start.”