Priya Malik was in Dehradun when Sakshi Malik did a winner’s lap after securing the first bronze medal in Indian female wrestling at the Rio Olympics. Priya, who had never shown a keen interest in sports, had a change of heart at that moment. She was inspired by Sakshi and wanted to emulate her.
Priya Malik’s father Jaybhagwan said:
“She had never played any sports before that. She was always studying and never thought of sports as a career choice. However, after watching Sakshi Malik, she felt like wrestling was calling her."
Both Sakshi and Priya Malik hail from the same place - the village of Mokhra. Priya Malik took her first step towards chasing her idol Sakshi when she won the world cadet championship in 73kg.
“I was confident about winning gold. We all work hard only for this. If we cannot deliver then it can be upsetting,” said Priya Malik.
The teenager hails from a family of wrestlers. Her grandfather was an amateur wrestler, while her father wrestled in the Indian Army. He was part of the Grenadiers battalion and had wrestled till the Services level.
Jaybhagwan says wrestling is in the DNA of their family. However, just like any other parent, he too warned Priya Malik about the hardships involved in becoming a pro wrestler.
“We all rose through the ranks so we knew what it takes to be a wrestler. It is not your common sport. Wrestling is a very tough sport and if someone is not mentally prepared they cannot reach the top level,” he said.
Priya Malik started training in 2017 and quickly rose through the ranks. A serial champion, she won gold medal in the 2019 Khelo India in Pune, followed by another gold at the 17th School Games the same year in Delhi.
She won titles in 2020 at the National Cadet Championship in Patna and National School Games. The cadet worlds was the Haryana wrestler’s first international competition. She dominated the event held in Budapest as she scored 30 points over her opponents to clinch the title.
Priya Malik said she did not think of anything except winning gold and knew exactly how to do it.
“I knew I could win. It is something I have been doing at the national level. I just had to continue the same at the international level,” she said.
Anshu and Priya Malik train at the same wrestling academy
Priya Malik trains at Chaudhary Bharat Singh Memorial Sports School in Nidani. It's the same akhada (wrestling academy) where teenage sensation and Olympian Anshu Malik practices.
Jaybhagwan says Anshu and Sakshi have been a big inspiration for the girls in India and especially Haryana. He believes if Priya can stay true to the sport, there will be no one who can stop her from creating history.
“There is always a reason girls work harder than boys. They need to prove their worth to the society who doubt them. I know Priya can reach great heights, all she needs to do is stay true to herself, and the sport,” he said.
Priya too understands the importance of hard work and what it takes to reach the Olympics.
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“I know it is not easy. But at my age even Anshu has played the Olympics which clearly indicates age is just a number. We train together and she always tells me that just focus on the process and things will fall in place. It was my grandfather’s dream that I become an Olympian. I hope to make it to the team by the next Games,” she said.