A diminutive 23-year-old girl from Mokhra village near Rohtak in Haryana, Sakshi Malik, touched glory at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday by reaching out and grabbing the first medal for India at the 31st Olympic Games .
Sakshi brought an end to India's long medal wait, as every hopeful failed one after another. She clinched the bronze in the Women's Freestyle 58kg category, with a spirited comeback victory over Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan. The young wrestler overturned a 0-5 deficit in a hectic second round to script an 8-5 victory in the medal bout at the Carioca Arena two in Rio de Janeiro.
"I have stood up to the hopes of the country for the first medal. I was confident that I can win in the end even being down. The last two hours were the most difficult for me thinking whether the medal will come or not," she said in her initial comments soon after winning.
"This is the first time that a medal has come for women. It's a success of my 12 years of dedication. My hard work has succeeded," Sakshi said.
The 23-year-old was a silver medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and bronze winner at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
"It's in the women's section, we have got the first medal for India," said an ecstatic WFI president Brij Bhushan, as he hugged Malik in joy.
It was a rousing display of fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude from the Indian.
Aisuluu was clearly the superior wrestler in the totally one-sided opening round, displaying impressive strength and technique to take five points and open up a formidable lead. But Sakshi — who has previously shown a knack of staging strong comebacks — was a totally transformed grappler in the second round, taking eight consecutive points to send the sizable number of Indian fans in the stands into wild delirium.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the wrestler on Twitter: "Sakshi Malik creates history! Congratulations to her for the Bronze. The entire nation is rejoicing."
Celebrations kicked off at the home of Sakshi in Rohtak, where her father, Sukhbir Malik, works with the Delhi Transport Corporation while her mother Sudesh is a government employee. Neighbours, relatives, friends, fellow wrestlers, coaches, political leaders and many other people started converging on Sakshia's home following the win.
"We are elated at her feat. She had promised me that she will get a medal for the country. She has done the country and us proud," a visibly happy Sudesh said.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar spoke to Sakshi's parents, Sukhbir and Sudesh Malik, on phone and congratulated them.
Sakshi training in wrestling as a 12-year-old under the guidance of Ishwar Dahiya at an akhara in the Chotu Ram stadium. Her grooming was helped along by having to fight a lot of boys, while Dahiya faced protests from locals when he took Sakshi under his wing, reports The Hindu.
Sakshi was always a talented face in the wrestling circuit, but being in the same wrestling weight category as Geeta Phogat ended up leaving the grappler on the sidelines. Geeta is often considered the queen of women’s wrestling in India, being the first to win a Commonwealth medal and also the first to qualify for the Olympics. Hence, Sakshi’s didn’t get the due credit for her accolades in the past.
But it all changed this year when Geeta was suspended, allegedly due to ‘indiscipline’. It gave Sakshi a chance to prove herself, and she did just that, and how.
Her bronze medal at the Spanish Grand Prix in July was a confidence booster she needed ahead of Rio. She has clinched medals at all the possible avenues, be it national or international, sub-junior, junior or senior levels.
But for Sakshi, the bronze at Rio might just be a stepping stone to even greater success. She focuses on establishing herself and her peers in the wrestling world and the future Olympics. “Going to the Olympic is just the start. The real challenge is carving out a niche for yourself on that stage and the only thing I am working towards everyday now is to give myself the best possible chance of doing that,” she said. “I want to bring joy and satisfaction to my family and my country at least till 2020,” she had said in an interview with Sportskeeda before the Rio Games.
Sakshi’s is known for her aggressive initiative in the arena. “Sakshi aims for the legs from the beginning. That is the strong part of her game. She won’t wait for the opponent to attack. If she stays focused and trains harder, she will win more medals for India,” coach Ishwar Dahiya had told The Indian Express.
The grappler attributes her ability to go so far in wrestling to her adversities. "Maybe it was my tough upbringing that made me fight for my success. From an early age, I was taught that you have to fight, fight and fight to achieve something,” she said.
“Sportsman ke liye sabse best feeling hoti hai ki humein medal mil raha hai aur hum India ka jhanda upar kar rahe hai (The best feeling for a sportsman is to win a medal and see the Indian flage getting hoisted)," she had said before the Games and her reaction to the victory just showed that.
For a state of Haryana which has the worst sex ratio among all the states in the country (879 females against 1,000 males as per the 2011 census) and known for female foeticide, Sakshi has overcome a double barrier — getting a medal for the country and being the first woman in the wrestling field to do so.
With inputs from agencies