Commonwealth Games 2018: Fighting exhaustion and homesickness, Sakshi Malik experiments with new approach for Gold Coast
"Each session is exhausting, every day at camp sometimes makes me so homesick." The loneliness is real. Away from the bright lights, over the past one year and little more, wrestler, Sakshi Malik has been grinding it out with her blinkers on at the JSW facilities in Bellary and with her coaches at Sports Authority of India (SAI).
There is no margin for error and no second opportunities. Almost a decade after she won the silver medal at the 2009 Manila Asian Junior Championships, Sakshi is preparing for one of the most anticipated competitions in the world - the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Australia this year, starting 4th April.
"I have been very engrossed in my preparations for this year. Preparations have been exhausting at points," she says and understandably so. Her silver at the 2014 CWG in Glasgow was in many ways a disappointment as far as she and probably her fans are concerned.
Ever since she secured bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, expectations have been sky high and the possibilities even higher. Sakshi though cannot afford to take off her blinkers, most definitely not at this time of the year.
"I spend a considerable amount of time working on my mind in preparation for a competition such as this," she states.
Amidst all the hoopla, she is only focusing on the controllable's, chief among them being her technique. Her transition from the 58kg to 62 kg weight category may seem like a big jump but it hasn't been executed overnight.
It was systematic and well planned. In 2017, she moved to the 60kg class and won silver at the Asian Wrestling Championship in New Delhi. She followed it up with a gold in Kyrgyzstan in 2018, albeit this time, she weighed 62kgs.
Change brings challenges and Sakshi has been at it, fine-tuning different aspects about her game - "Given that I have transitioned to a higher weight category, I have had to tweak MY technique to work for me positively in that weight group. We have worked out individual strategies for each opponent but you'd have to wait and watch to know what they are," she explains.
Heading into this tournament, Sakshi reckons Canada and Nigeria could prove to be stiff competition. After all, she did lose the gold to Nigerian freestyle wrestler, Aminat Adeniyi four years back in what was a one-sided affair.
Aminat took a massive lead of 10-0 in two minutes 24 seconds when the match had to be stopped on grounds of technical superiority. Surely not the best way to lose a final at the world stage.
Right now, it seems like she's carrying the weight of the country on her shoulders. The narrative has well and truly being built -'Sakshi Malik gunning for gold!", reads almost every second headline. Surely the pressure must be immense?
"It doesn't affect me at all. I realise that a lot of hopes are pinned on me, but I take it in my stride and don't overthink it. My mental makeup heading to any competition, big or small, has been to just focus on the bout, at that moment and blank out all other noises," she puts things into perspective.
At the assertion of her coach, Kuldeep Singh Malik, she's been working hard, altering her defensive technique from the ground up. The extra weight could possibly throw her off balance in strained situations.
As a result, she's tweaked her defensive approach but refuses to divulge into the details, apart from the fact that, "I am giving it all so that I am not caught off guard even in the toughest bouts. I have been working on my physical strength, while not compromising on my mobility which is also important," she says.
A gold medal hanging around Sakhi's neck as she poses for the cameras along the picturesque beaches at the Commonwealth Games is very much a possibility. Different scenarios could play out but this one hangs heavy around her neck.
"The moment we start to think beyond giving our best performance, be it in sport or life, we get distracted and lose focus on what matters more. There is always more to gain, including changing that colour of that Olympic Medal," the enterprising wrestler signs off.