Sonam Malik's perseverance finally paid dividends on Saturday after she qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a comfortable win in the women's 62kg semi-final at the Asian Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers.
Malik employed aggressive tactics to overturn a six-point deficit and got past Kazakhstan’s Ayaulym Kassymova 9-6 to reach the final.
The opening 24 seconds threw up an unexpected scoreline of 6-0 in favor of the Kazakh. Thereafter, sensing an element of tiredness in Kassymova, Malik was quick to counter her with a series of takedowns to take a three-point lead.
The 18-year-old kick-started her Asian qualifiers campaign with a 5-2 victory over China's Jia Long and then knocked off Hsin Ping Pai of Chinese Taipei 11-0 in the quarters by technical superiority. In the process, she became the youngest Indian woman wrestler to seal an Olympic berth.
Sonam was forced to pull out of the final after sustaining a leg injury. She had come out of the mat limping after the semi-final bout on Saturday.
Early life & bumpy ride to success
Born on April 15, 2002 near Sonepat in Haryana, Sonam showed an interest in wrestling from an early age. She grew up watching her father Rajender Malik train in the earthen akhadas of her village. He played a key role in ensuring that she climbs up the ladder of the sport.
Determined to carry her father's legacy forward, Sonam began training under the guidance of Ajmer Malik at the age of 12. She made a promising start to her career, but a terrible right shoulder nerve injury left Sonam without the ability to move her limb.
"The diagnosis was that the nerves in her shoulder were simply not transmitting impulses down to her arm. The doctor said if it was in Sonam’s destiny, she would recover,” Ajmer Malik was quoted as saying in an interview.
On the road to Tokyo Olympics
A year before she was diagnosed with paralysis, Sonam carved her name on the global stage after winning bronze in the 56kg at the 2017 Asian Cadets Championships. She finished on top of the podium twice in the same year at the World Cadet Championships.
Sonam's determination to rise above the challenges has seen her beat all the odds. After a year-long gap, she quickly went about regaining her competitive ability on the mat.
Competing in the 65kg category, she bagged two bronze medals at the Asian Cadet Championships and the World Cadet Championships. She finished as runner-up at the 2019 Asian Cadet Championships, followed by a gold medal at the World Cadet Championships that year.
Sonam hogged the limelight at the wrestling trials in January last year after beating Olympic bronze medalist Sakshi Malik in a fierce 62kg battle.
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