Showing extraordinary fighting spirit, woman wrestler Sakshi Malik ended India’s frustrating wait for a medal by clinching a surprise bronze in dramatic fashion on day 12 of the Rio Olympic Games here. Sakshi fought five bruising battles in the 58kg category against equally determined opponents in a single day before securing the podium place. She had lost her quarterfinal bout but got a fresh lease of life when her Russian conqueror reached the final, allowing the Indian to compete in the repechage round. The 23-year-old grappler from Rohtak in 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.
She jumped on the mat with 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 MC Mary Kom (2012, London) and shuttler Saina Nehwal (2012, London).
Sakshi also became the first female grappler 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. “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. I hope the remaining wrestlers will also do well,” Sakshi said with tears of joy in her eyes.
She said she was confident of winning a medal and she kept on trying till the last. “I knew till last that there’s a medal in offering, I kept on trying. I was very confident, and this medal is a result of my struggle all these years,” she 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.” Her bronze medal winning feat was like a balm as it came after Vinesh Phogat was forced out of the 48kg competition due to an unfortunate knee injury suffered during her quarterfinal bout against Chinese rival Sun Yanan. Vinesh had to be stretchered off the arena. The MRI scan confirmed a knee ligament tear. The injury occurred when the Chinese was leading 1-0.