Rio Olympics: Spirited Sakshi Malik ends India's medal drought
RIO DE JANEIRO: A diminutive 23-year-old girl from Mokhra village near Rohtak in Haryana, Sakshi Malik, touched glory at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday by reaching out and grabbing the only medal India has been able to win at the 31st Olympiad.
What's even more astonishing and historic is that she is the only Indian woman wrestler to have ever won a medal at the Olympic games.
Sakshi brought an end to India's long medal wait, when every hopeful had failed one by one. She clinched the bronze in the Women's Freestyle 58kg category with a spirited comeback victory over Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan.
The young wrestler overturned a 0-5 deficit in a hectic second round to script an 8-5 victory in the medal bout at the Carioca Arena 2 here.
"I have stood up to the hopes of the country for the first medal. I was confident that I can win in the end even being down. The last two hours were the most difficult for me thinking whether the medal will come or not," she said in her initial comments soon after winning.
"This is the first time that a medal has come for women. It's a success of my 12 years of dedication. My hard work has succeeded," Sakshi said.
It was a rousing display of fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude from the Indian.
Aisuluu was clearly the superior wrestler in the totally one-sided opening round, displaying impressive strength and technique to take five points and open up a formidable lead.
But Sakshi -- who has previously shown a knack of staging strong comebacks -- was a totally transformed grappler in the second round, taking eight consecutive points to send the substantial number of Indian fans in the stands into wild delirium.
Kaori Icho of Japan won the gold medal in the category while Russia's Valeria Koblova -- who had defeated Sakshi in the quarter-finals -- took the silver.
Eight-time African champion Marwa Amri of Tunisia took home the other bronze medal in the category.
Icho also created history by becoming the first-ever wrestler to win four Olympic titles. She is also the first female in any sport to win gold at four Olympics in an individual event.
Sakshi's medal capped another day of heartbreaks for India including an unfortunate injury to Vinesh in the women's 48kg Freestyle category that forced her out of the competition.
"To those who told me I am a girl and I could not wrestle, I want to say please show some trust in girls, they can do everything," she said.
Later, at an impromptu press conference, Sakshi was asked if she was still feeling the pain from the battering during the match. "After the medal all the pain has gone. If I had missed the medal, all the aches would have shown up," she said beaming.
"I was confident till the end that the medal was there and I told myself, you have to fight. That's why I attacked again and again succeeding after a lot of effort," she said, adding that the medal was dedicated to "every person who helped me along, my parents, my coaches and my training partners."
She said she was disturbed and her mind got diverted when Vinesh, her wrestling colleague, was injured in another bout and had to be carried away on a stretcher. "But then I thought I must redouble my efforts to get a medal which she would also have got."
She broke out in applause "yayyyyy," when someone told her that her name would now be taken in the same breath as Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar, the earlier bronze medal winners.
"When I used to see them I was in awe how I would be able to even train with them. My idols have been men like Sushil Kumar who paved the way for our success," she said.
Right from the beginning, the Kyrgyz grappler displayed impressive strength and was more active in the opening stages which forced Sakshi to go on the defensive.
However, the referee invoked the passivity rule against Sakshi which handed the Kyrgyz the first point.
Aisuluu then made a successful takedown to bag another two points. Aisuluu continued to pil