Wrestling in India has soared in popularity in recent years. A lot of youngsters are taking to wrestling as they see a future in it.
Sakshi Malik might have been overshadowed by Geeta Phogat as far as Indian women's wrestling is concerned. But make no mistake, the 24-year-old has done his bit for the country, winning medals in various competitions.
‘Balancing academics with wrestling is tricky’
Coming from a very humble background, life wasn't handed to Sakshi Malik on a silver platter. She had to earn things.
She says, "Maybe it was my tough upbringing that made me fight for my success. From an early age, I was taught that you have to fight, fight and fight to achieve something.”
"I started wrestling when I was 12. I always wanted to be different. There were very few girls, as a result of which I had to train with boys mostly," adds Sakshi.
It was difficult for the 24-year-old Haryana grappler to balance her studies and wrestling. But, she chose the latter. Maybe because she knew wrestling can keep her happy.
There are many players who have faced this dilemma. "Academics is important and balancing it with wrestling is certainly not easy," says the grappler from Rohtak.
She may not be the last player to go this way.
'Words not enough to describe how I felt standing on the podium'
She looked for an ideal opportunity to announce her arrival on the world stage. In 2014, Sakshi became the only Indian wrestler to win a gold at the Dave Schultz International Wrestling Tournament when she defeated Jennifer Page in the final of 60 kg bout.
Later that year, she claimed a silver medal in the women's freestyle 58 kg category.
She says, "Words are not enough to describe how I felt standing on the podium. I literally got goosebumps after hearing the national anthem. I will never forget that day."
“Singing the national anthem in a stadium outside India is the proudest feeling one can ever have. Be it personal goals, milestones, achievements, everything else takes a back seat,” adds Sakshi.
‘There is nothing like winning a medal there for your country’
Every winning bout is special for Sakshi. "My silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games is my personal favourite. Although I displayed some aggressive wrestling at the 2015 Asian Championships and clinched a bronze, my bout at Glasgow was more challenging."
The 2016 Rio Olympics is knocking at the door and not just Sakshi, the entire Indian wrestling contingent is looking forward to do well in it.
She says, “Indian wrestling is in good health. Everyone is training hard and the entire wrestling contingent is determined to win medals.”
“Every nation is watching out for India since 2008. We are the underdogs. I won't be surprised if we win a couple of medals at the Olympics,” Sakshi told Sportskeeda.
‘Fortunate to have Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt around us’
She has defeated Geeta Phogat, India's first woman wrestler twice in the last two months. But, the wrestler narrowly missed out on securing quotas after a disappointing outing at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Astana, last month.
Sakshi reached the semi-finals but a lapse in concentration against Mongolia's Ordkhon ensured that she has to travel to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in the third week of April to achieve qualification at the World Qualification Tournament.
But even if Sakshi qualifies for Rio, it is up to the federation's decision who they select to represent India in the 58-kg category.
She feels we are fortunate to have Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt around us. “Ever since Sushil and Yogeshwar bagged medals in 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics - India has built a reputation of being a wrestling power. Everyone takes us seriously now," says Sakshi in an excited tone.
Sushil and not Yogeshwar is her inspiration. "Sushil Kumar is a champion wrestler and he is my idol. He is a very humble person and boosts my confidence always."
Sakshi is currently supported by JSW Sports under the Sports Excellence Programme. JSW has been nurturing Sakshi and several Indian sports athletes regain its lost fame on the world stage.
“I want to bring joy and satisfaction to my family and my country at least till 2020,” she signs off.