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Sakshi Malik clinches the bronze in the Women’s Freestyle 58kg with a spirited comeback victory over Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan. HARDEV SANOTRA reports
“To those who told me I am a girl and I can’t wrestle, I want to say, please show some trust in girls, they can do everything.”
A diminutive 23-year-old girl from Haryana, Sakshi Malik, has grabbed India’s lone medal at the 31st Olympic Games.
It’s finally an end to India’s long medal wait, when every hopeful failed one by one.
Sakshi 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 2 in Rio.
“I have stood up to the hopes of the country for the first medal,” Sakshi said in her initial comments soon after winning. “I was confident of winning even while being down. The last two hours were the most difficult for me, wondering whether the medal would come or not!”
She added, “This is the first time that an Indian medal has come for women (in my event). It’s a success of my 12 years of dedication. My hard work has paid off.”
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.
Kaori Icho of Japan won the gold medal in the category while Russia’s Valeria Koblova – who had defeated Sakshi in the quarter-finals – took the silver.
Eight-time African champion Marwa Amri of Tunisia took home the other bronze medal in the category.
Icho also created history by becoming the first-ever wrestler to win four Olympic titles. She is also the first female in any sport to win gold at four Olympics in an individual event.
Sakshi’s medal capped another day of heartbreaks for India including an unfortunate injury to Vinesh in the women’s 48kg Freestyle category that forced her out of the competition.
Later, at an impromptu press conference, Sakshi was asked if she was still feeling the pain from the battering during the match. “After the medal, all the pain has gone. If I had missed the medal, all the aches would have shown up,” she said beaming.
“I was confident till the end that the medal was there and I told myself, you have to fight. That’s why I attacked again and again succeeding after a lot of effort,” she said, adding that the medal was dedicated to “every person who helped me along, my parents, my coaches and my training partners.”
She said she was disturbed and her mind got diverted when Vinesh, her wrestling colleague, was injured in another bout and had to be carried away on a stretcher.
“But then I thought I must redouble my efforts to get a medal which she would also have got.”
She broke out in applause when someone told her that her name would now be taken in the same breath as Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar, the earlier bronze medal winners.
“I am in awe every time I see them…I always thought, how I would be able to even train with them. My idols have been men like Sushil Kumar who paved the way for our success,” she said.
— ANI (@ANI_news) August 17, 2016
Right from the beginning, the Kyrgyz grappler displayed impressive strength and was more active in the opening stages which forced Sakshi to go on the defensive.
However, Sakshi made a superb comeback in the second round, turning a defensive position into an offensive one. With just seconds remaining in the bout, the Indian pulled off another takedown to take the lead and make sure of the win.
There was a visible sigh of relief among officials and coaches. Her coach of eight years, Kuldeep Singh said his heartbeat had increased after she was five points down, “as they were of all Indians”.
He kept telling her in the break that the medal was hers to take.
She believed him.
The Indian chief coach by the same name, Kuldeep Singh, said that the bronze medal match was the best one because she showed her true value by coming back from a very low point.
“During the break we explained to her the mistakes she was making. The opponent was placing the weight of her body on Sakshi without moving her legs. So we advised that Sakshi should divert her weight and attack her,” he said.
Interestingly, Sakshi hails from Mokhra village near Rohtak, which has produced several achievers in the field. But to date, she is the only woman wrestler in Mokhra.