Sakshi Malik – India’s Miss Sunshine at Rio Olympics

Sakshi Malik, the diminutive Haryana wrestler, overturns a 0-5 deficit against Kyrgyz Aisuluu Tynybekova to give the country its first medal at Rio — a bronze.

Written by Shivani Naik | Rio De Janeiro | Updated: August 19, 2016 10:46 am
Sakshi Malik, Sakshi Malik bronze medal, Sakshi Malik India bronze medal. Sakshi malik bronze, sakshi malik wrestling, sakshi malik wrestler, sports news, sports, rio 2016 olympics, rio olympics Sakshi Malik pulls off a takedown against Mongolia’s Orkhon Purevdorj. It was this bout that put the Indian in the bronze medal match. (Source: PTI)

The double leg. Sakshi Malik went for the leg attack in each of her five bouts on way to the bronze medal after trailing in the first period. Her signature move, displaying her power, strength and endurance, this was the kill shot that helped the 22-year-old win bronze.

A double-leg takedown involves placing your right foot in the middle of the opponent’s feet that are wide apart, ramming in head in the space under rival’s armpits, getting a hold on both feet — usually on the top calf, and after destabilising opponent with the might of your shoulder, lifting her in the air for a final takedown. In her bronze playoff against the Kyrgyz Aisuluu Tynybekova, a challenge presented itself because the opponent was clutching Sakshi’s fingers tight and she had to free herself from the grasp before she could enforce the double leg.

Trailing 1-5, and with two minutes to go, hopes were sinking in the Barra Wrestling Arena 2, but Sakshi was readying for her pounce on the powerful looking ferocious Kyrgyz girl. The double leg would finally fetch her a flurry of points as she won 8-5 and got India its opening bronze on Day 13 of the Olympics.

Scouted early for her perfect physique — she was strong, with small hands and small legs — needed for freestyle wrestling, Sakshi had recently won bronze at the Spain international — the only Indian woman to do so. It had been a tough field for women because many internationals were in attendance, though it was only a practice tournament.
That should have been an indicator of her chances, though the Rohtak girl stayed under the radar — having long lived in the shadow of Geeta Phogat in the women’s 58kg. She is the present and the future of 58kg now.

The double leg had been brought out against the eventual silver medallist Russian Valeria Koblova too, though not entirely. Going into repechage, her power, world-class strength and endurance though made it possible to carry it to its logical happy conclusion, a win and medal.

A 2014 Commonwealth Games silver, and 2015 Asian Championship bronze, bubbly and cheerful, always with a smile on even through some intense pain she suffered after training, Sakshi Malik was quite the Miss Sunshine as against the grumpy grimacing of many other wrestler folk.

Quite thick with Vinesh, her friend’s injury had strengthened her resolve, helping her in the surge towards a medal. The fact that she had often been passed over for international events in favour of Geeta Phogat meant she had stayed away from the spotlight till she won trials convincingly in January this year and went to Asian qualifiers, finishing 5th.

Out of Phoghat shadow

Still, Geeta got sent to Mongolia, where she lost in the first round. Sakshi went to Istanbul and got the quota, where she had interestingly lost to Koblova.

But strong, technically good and tactically smart after having worked tremendously on her fitness, she had run into world champion Johanna Mattson beating her 3-1 in a shock win.

Her endurance was phenomenal because her bout against Orkhon Purevdorl of Mongolia was her fourth of the day, and she didn’t show signs of tiredness.

Up against superior opponents, Mattsson and then the Moldovan — it was the Orkhon fight though that made her serious contender. The Mongolian had become the first wrestler to defeat the legendary Kaori Icho (at the the Yarygin Grand Prix in Russia) in 13 years, and Sakshi Malik pulled out the double leg at just the right time to secure that win inching closer to the medal. Orkhon had smashed Sakshi in Asian Olympic qualifiers, and this was cold, measured revenge.

No amount of score deficits or trailing in the match would deter the Indian. “Even when I trailed I knew I could win. I had to win,” she would say. Win bronze she did. Shaking the feet of every opponent. In India, shaking up the grim gloom that had set in after 0 medals.

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