In the early hours of Thursday good news started pouring in for the Indian fans when on the 17th day of the Rio 2016 Olympics their medal drought ended. Time and again, this Indian contingent has shown sparks of brilliance but they have been undone by how diffused and scattered those moments are and sometimes, just by the sheer magnitude of the moment. One would hope that is bound to change after Malik’s Thursday triumph. Sakshi Malik won the bronze medal in the 58kg category of Women’s Freestyle Wrestling in the most astonishing fashion after she qualified for the Repêchage rounds. After losing the Quarterfinal to eventual finalist Koblova Zholobowa, Sakshi went on to win the Repêchage against Mongolia’s Orkhon Purevdorj, and then Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova.
Statistically speaking, Malik now is:
- The first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal (fourth female athlete overall)
- Winner of India’s fifth wrestling medal in the Olympic Games (India has a total 25 medals in Olympic Games)
“I never thought I would become the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal in wrestling”, gushes an ecstatic Sakshi after her victory.
From Struggles to Success
Born on September 3, 1992, in Rohtak, Haryana, choosing wrestling as a career option may have been an arduous task for Malik had she lacked the support of her parents, Sukhbir and Sudesh. Fortunately that was never the case and her parents were with her at every step of her journey.
The 23-year-old from Mokhra village began her training in wrestling as a 12-year-old under the guidance of Ishwar Dahiya at an akhara in the Chotu Ram stadium. In a region where the sport was ‘not for girls’, her grooming was aided along by having to fight a lot of boys. Credit must also go to Dahiya who faced protests from locals when he took Sakshi under his wing but never deterred from his commitment to Malik just like his other wards.
“Meri 12 saal ki tapasya rang layi [It’s the result of my 12 years’ dedication]. Geeta didi, my senior had qualified for the first time in London,” Sakshi said, her eyes almost wet with jubilation.
Road to Rio
2010: She won a Bronze at the 2010 Junior World Championships in the 59-kg category at the tender age of 18 years.
2014: International recognition beckoned after she bagged the Gold medal at the Dave Schultz International Wrestling Tournament (60-kg).
Commonwealth Games, July-August 2014: Her professional international career began with a silver medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, courtesy two 4-0 bouts.
World Wrestling Championships, September 2014: She faced Anta Sambou of Senegal in the Round of 16, and won the bout 4-1. She was knocked out of the tournament after a 1-3 loss to Petra Olli of Finland.
Asian Wrestling Championships, May 2015: Malik battled through two rounds in the 60 kg category to finish in third position and claim a bronze medal. In the first round, she faced Luo Xiaojuan of China but was beaten 4-5 by fall verdict. She was able to clinch the bronze medal in the fourth round, beating Ayaulym Kassymova of Kazakhstan.
Rio Olympics, July 2016: After losing to eventual finalist Valeria Koblova of Russia in the quarterfinal, she qualified for the repechage round where she defeated Pürevdorjiin Orkhon of Mongolia in her first bout. She won the bronze medal after a 8–5 victory over the current Asian champion Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan, despite trailing 0–5 at one stage, in the repechage medal playoff.
“I never gave up till the end; I knew I would win if I lasted till six minutes. In last round, I had to give my maximum, I had the self-belief”, she says when asked about her 0-5 trail.
For the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sakshi has been awarded:
- ₹2 crore (US$300,000) from the Government of Haryana, in addition to a state land grant.
- ₹50 lakh (US$74,000) from the Indian Railways, as its employee
- ₹20 lakh (US$30,000) from the Indian Olympic Association
- ₹15 lakh (US$22,000) from the JSH Group
- ₹1.01 lakh (US$1,500) from Salman Khan, Hindi Cinema actor