The third edition of Khelo India Youth Games is enabling the country to spot young talent across sports and Assam too has joined the bandwagon with judoka Puja Basumatary.
Puja recently bagged for the host state its first gold medal in the ongoing tournament after defeating Uttarakhand’s Sneha Chauhan 1-0 in the finals of the U-17 Girls 57kg category.
The 17-year-old judoka’s journey started in Assam’s Karbi Anglong while watching her brother grow into a national level wrestler. However, Puja preferred the traditional judo dress over wrestling costume which became her first step towards an incident that turned into an obsession.
“When I witnessed judo and wrestling matches, I knew that I was meant to be an athlete and compete in tournaments. But in 2015 when my brother asked me to choose between judo and wrestling, I went with judo since I didn’t like the wrestling costume,” Puja told The Federal.
Born in a humble family as the daughter of a cab driver, Puja, according to her Khelo India national camp coach and former Arjuna Awardee Yashpal Solanki now “eats, breathes, and lives judo.”
“Watching her walk into the judo arena is like seeing a viewer watch their favourite movie,” said Solanki.
Puja, who started competing in a professional circuit just a year ago, has become one of the most promising judokas in the country and her coach, in fact, expects her to compete with other senior athletes in her sport.
“Having already become the best player in youth nationals last year, currently Puja is one of the finest judo athletes in the country, and with the calibre that she possesses, I expect her to become the number one in the senior category in India by the end of this year,” Solanki who trains athletes in Bhopal opined.
Though her coach sees her as a top judoka, Puja says that she uses a different approach when looking forward to big competitions.
“I don’t focus on winning the competition but I want to beat the judoka who is in front of me on the mat.
“I am always ready to fight, and aim to apply my technique and beat the opponent. My coach keeps telling me to calm down even during the matches, but I have only one goal in mind – that is to win,” she said.
Puja, who has won many precious medals for her state and the country, aims to be known as the best judoka on an international level and continue working her way up the ladder.
“My sole aim is to become the number one judoka in India, and stand among the top-10 athletes in the world,” she said.
While Puja has support from her family even her coach sees a future Olympian in her. “I have always believed in her capabilities, and think she has the talent and physique to be an Olympian for India one day,” said Solanki.