Wrestler Sakshi Malik Wins India’s First Medal in Rio Olympics

Sakshi Malik poses with her bronze medal in women's freestyle 58kg competition in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Sakshi Malik poses with her bronze medal in women’s freestyle 58kg competition in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Shakshi Malik made history yesterday when she became the first Indian woman wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics. Malik ended India’s frustrating wait for a medal with her sensational victory leading to a bronze on the twelfth day of the Rio Olympics.

Meri 12 saal ki tapasya rang layi (It’s the fruit of my persistent hard work in the last 12 years). Geeta didi, my senior, had qualified for the first time in London. I never thought I would become the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal in wrestling,” the 23-year-old from Rothak said with tears in her eyes.

Malik had to fight five battles in the 58kg women’s wrestling category, in a single day, before securing her place on the podium.

The wrestler from Haryana climbed the medal rostrum with a spectacular come-from-behind 8-5 win over Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan after trailing 0-5 in the first period. Her winning move, that got her two points initially, was challenged by her Kyrgyztan rival and after review she was awarded an extra point by the judges much to her rival’s chagrin.

Malik earned the dramatic win after falling behind 0-5 following the first period in the do-or-die bout. She turned the tables on the Kyrgyzstan wrestler in the dying seconds of the bout as Tynybekova was in complete command in most part of the clash.

On her defensive approach that saw her trailing 0-5, Malik said, “I never gave up till last, 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.”

Sakshi had lost 2-9 in the quarter-finals to Russia’s Valeriia Koblova in the fifth bout of the day before getting a second chance in repechage when Koblova reached the final.

“It was an agonising two-three hours wait for me. Congratulations to my country mates, I could live up to their expectations,” she said.

She jumped on the mat with a ear-to-ear smile before being hoisted by her coach Kuldeep Singh with the Indian tri-colour draped around her.

It was the fifth bronze in wrestling for India in its long Olympic history stretching back to 1952 Helsinki Games when Kashaba Jadhav became its first individual medallist.

She is also the fourth female Olympic medallist from India, joining the ranks of weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari (2000, Sydney), boxer M.C. Mary Kom (2012, London) and shuttler Saina Nehwal (2012, London).

Malik also became the first female wrestler from India to climb the podium in the quadrennial sports spectacle – the other four medals being won by men with two of those claimed by Sushil Kumar in 2008 Beijing and 2012 London. Malik, who qualified through the second Olympic Games World Qualifying Tournament in Istanbul, battled social biases and sexism to learn wrestling. She took up the sport when she was just nine years old.

(with PTI inputs)