Indian wrestler Sakshi Malik has finally brought an end to India’s dismal run at the 2016 Rio Olympics by winning a historic bronze medal in the 58kg category of women’s freestyle wrestling. With her win over Aisuluu Tynybekova in the Repechage Round 3 bout, Sakshi has become the first female Indian wrestler to ever win an Olympics medal.
The Kyrgyzstani wrestler and the current Asian No. 1 Tynybekova had had a fairly smooth run till the semi-final stages, winning 11-8 against Joice Silva of Brazil in her Round of 16 match, followed by a massive 14-7 triumph over her quarterfinal rival and Finnish wrestler Petra Olli. With just Russian Valeria Koblova standing between Tynybekova and a place in the summit clash, it was Koblova who completed a 4-1 win to leave Tynybekova to compete for a bronze medal.
On the other hand, the Rohtak-born Sakshi, a silver medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, had a staggeringly rocky ride as she had trailed her opponents on three separate occasions but succeeded in coming through every obstacle with a tremendous show of grit and skill. An overwhelming 12-3 victory over Mongolia’s Orkhon Purevdorj paved the way for Sakshi to fight for India’s first medal at the Rio Olympics 2016.
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After the victory ceremony of the women’s 48kg freestyle category came to a conclusion with Eri Tosaka of Japan taking the coveted gold medal, the first bronze medal match was contested between Tunisian Marwa Amri and Yuliya Ratkevich of Azerbaijan. The former won it 6-3, and that meant the second bronze medal match was next up.
So it was finally time for the two 23-year-old grapplers – Sakshi Malik of India and Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan – to step out onto the centre mat of the Carioca Arena 2 in Rio de Janeiro for the penultimate fixture of women’s 58kg freestyle wrestling.
The bout started with the Kyrgyzstani forcing Sakshi onto the backfoot as she encircled her repeatedly to catch hold of her legs. The first chance went to Sakshi, but she couldn’t turn Tynybekova for a takedown and was punished with a one-point penalty in the second minute. Within moments, Tynybekova’s lead extended to 5 points as Sakshi was pushed out of the circle twice in quick succession.
At the interval, Sakshi trailed 0-5 and had a humongous task on her hands if she hoped to change India’s medal fortunes in Rio. But she was up to the task, and how!
Collecting two back-to-back doubles via takedowns, Sakshi reduced the deficit to that of a point with the final 30 seconds to go. Merely pushing Tynybekova out of the circle in the last 10 seconds would not have been enough as the 5-5 scoreline would’ve given the bout to the Kyrgyzstani. That’s when Sakshi came through with a stunning takedown with just two seconds left on the clock, and she surged ahead for the first time in the match to 7-5.
A failed challenge awarded another point to India and it ended 8-5 in favour of Sakshi, thus marking a historic bronze medal for the Haryana wrestler! It was an immensely proud moment for her, and she showed her joy by draping the tricolour around her shoulders and falling to the ground, before rising up and beaming all over. Pictures of her winning moment are likely to remain etched forever in the memory of every Indian sports fan.
On 18th August 2016 Sakshi Malik made history, and her feat is now permanently set in stone.Published 18 Aug 2016, 02:59 IST