The only female wrestler from India to win an Olympic medal, Sakshi Malik has sighted her next goal: To change the colour of her medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year. "The preparations are all in place. I've just returned from training camps in Spain and Italy where there's ample exposure since you find sparring partners with different styles and techniques," said Sakshi.
While life has certainly changed for the wrestler from Rohtak after her bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sakshi talked about times when the going was tough and how things have improved for the sport after her win at the Olympics: "When I started, we would get Rs 3000 per month with an additional Rs 100 for our nutritional requirements."
"That felt like a lot to us then but today, I wish there's more done for the junior wrestlers coming up the ranks so that they can purchase a wrestling kit, better shoes and start training on the wrestling mats, moving away from the akhadas," said Sakshi who also pointed out that there's been a sea change in people's attitude towards the sport.
"There's been a very visible change in terms of the infrastructure. That has inspired parents to send their daughters for training in wrestling. The numbers have increased so much that the trainers are conducting several sessions with multiple time-slots for different age categories."
When quizzed about the thinning margins of victory at international competitions, Sakshi took a positive view and attributed the change to foreigners getting a frequent look at Indian wrestlers."Our federation is being approached by foreign federations who are looking to come to India and train with our wrestlers. We are also being invited to international training camps. All of this wasn't happening four years back so evidently, we've come a long way," said Malik during a press interaction at an event where she was announced as an ASICS athlete.
Her bronze medal at the Rio Olympics should have been a precursor for continued success and podium finishes at international tournaments. However, the last couple of years have seen Malik lose matches from a winning position.
While speaking about the drop in form, Sakshi attributed those losses to a change in mindset which didn't help her. "I have a naturally attacking posture and have always backed myself to gather points through those tactics, but after winning a medal at the Rio Olympics, the weight of people's expectations got the better of me," said Sakshi who had lost in the quarterfinals of the Asian Championships to Japan's Yukako Kawai.
Incidentally, the 21-year-old Japanese had also beaten Sakshi at the 2018 World Championships and has become a known nemesis for the Haryana wrestler. However, Sakshi asserts that a fresh approach at the World Championships, to be held in Kazakhstan this year, will set things right with under a year to go for the Tokyo Olympics. "I am trying to not clutter my mind with thoughts of losing and go for the kill even if I'm ahead on points," said Sakshi.
"When you play the entire six minutes in a bout with a single-minded intent to attack and gather points, there's no confusion there and you can play to your strengths."
However, Sakshi and other wrestlers from Haryana have had to put up with plenty of noise on the sidelines as issues with their state's Sports Ministry have cropped up. Recently, the Haryana government announced a new sports policy which would mean a reduced prize money if athletes win multiple medals in the same year.
Speaking on the controversial move, Sakshi expressed her support for fellow wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia who had criticised the state government. "In India, an athlete gets recognised only when he/she wins a medal at the big stage," said Sakshi who had received multiple cash prizes and a land grant from the Haryana government after winning the bronze medal at Rio. "Now, they are even cutting down on the financial support awarded post the medal and other achievements."
"I think this attitude will change once we have former sportspersons making these important decisions instead of people who have never understood what it takes to win a medal in a sport."
When quizzed about the India Olympic Association's (IOA) proposed boycott of the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) for shooting's exclusion from the roster, Sakshi sided with the IOA's concern. "Shooting is a huge medal hope for India and its exclusion will directly affect our medals tally." She, however, refrained from commenting whether the idea to boycott the Games was ideal or not. "I wish that the issue gets sorted and shooting can be included so that we don't have to think about taking that extreme step and boycott the entire Games."
When asked about the way ahead for Indian wrestling, Sakshi talked about the importance of support from the federation as well as sponsors stepping in. "Associations with sponsors such as ASICS are a huge help as we don't have to worry then about our equipment and training gear and can focus entirely on our preparations," said Sakshi.
Updated Date: Jul 30, 2019 17:41:07 IST