India’s Sakshi Malik wins a bronze medal in the wrestling 58kg category after the Indian beat Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan 8-5 in the bronze medal bout. In a thrilling contest, Sakshi fought back from 0-5 down to seal the bout 8-5 in her favour. With seconds left on the clock, she produced a three-point move to seal the bout and India’s first medal at Rio 2016 Olympics. The move was reviewed, but the decision remained in Sakshi’s favour. It was a sensational win for the Rohtak girl who made most of her second life and came from way behind to beat a formidable opponent in the bronze medal match. The wrestler opens India’s account after the athletes struggled for 12 long days in Rio.
India Wrestling: As it happened!
0244 hrs IST: Decision reviewed but it stays in Sakshi’s favour. She wins the bout and gives India the first medal – BRONZE – at Rio 2016 Olympics
0243 hrs IST: Sensational! Sakshi Malik back from behind again, with a three-point move to seal the bout and medal
0241 hrs IST: Sakshi with a late take down and it levels the scoring at 5-5. THRILLING!
0239 hrs IST: Sakshi opens the scoring, and earns four points to make it 4-5 in the second period
0237 hrs IST: Aisuluu with a similar move, and similar result. She leads Sakshi 5-0 in first period
0236 hrs IST: Aisuluu goes for Malik’s leg, grabs and earns two more points. She’s 3-0 up now
0235 hrs IST: Sakshi faces the 30-second timer now. Needs to convert else she’ll concede a point
0234 hrs IST: Sakshi tries the move but fails to get behind and on top of her opponent. Remains 0-0 in the first period of the bout
0233 hrs IST: The wrestlers from India and Kyrgyzstan charge towards the mat for the bronze medal bout
0231 hrs IST: The second bronze medal in the 58kg category to be decided now. It’s Sakshi vs Aisuluu
0230 hrs IST: Marwa Amri of Tunisia with a huge move in last few seconds, seals 58kg bronze. Sakshi next!
0220 hrs IST; Sakshi Malik to take on Aisuluu Tynybekova in Bronze medal match shortly. The Indian is just one win away from India’s wait for the first medal at Rio 2016
0105 hrs IST: Sakshi Malik beats Mongolia’s Orkhon 12-3 in Repechage Rd 2 contest. She now meets Aisuluu Tynybekova in Bronze medal match. The Indian outplayed here opponent in the Rd 2 contest
0104 hrs IST: Sakshi with two, and another two. She is now 10-3 ahead. Dominating the bout
0103 hrs IST: Two more points to Sakshi and she is now 6-3 ahead, with about a minute left
0102 hrs IST: Sakshi goes for the double-leg take down, earns two crucial points early in the period
0059 hrs IST: That’s the end of the first period. Sakshi and Orkhon level at 2-2
0058 hrs IST: Sakshi loses balance, Orkhon pounces and levels the scoring to make it 2-2
0057 hrs IST: Sakshi Malik opens the scoring with a two-point move
0056 hrs IST: Sakshi and Orkhon are out in the middle. A win here takes them one step closer to a bronze medal
0054 hrs IST: Meanwhile, Vinesh Phogat’s injury is serious. Torn meniscus and ACL ligament rupture. She might need surgery
0040 hrs IST: Orkhon beats Niemesch of #GER. Orkhon will take on Sakshi Malik of India shortly
2220 hrs IST: HOW REPECHAGE WORKS: Sakshi Malik lost to Valeria Koblova 9-2 and the Russian has now made it to the Gold medal round. This gives Malik two matches to win India their first bronze medal. For that, Malik has to beat the winner of the bout between Luisa Niemesch (Germany) and Pürevdorjiin Orkhon (Mongolia). If Malik wins her bout, then she takes on Aisuluu Tynybekova (Kyrgyzstan) for the bronze medal
2200 hrs IST: Sakshi Malik will now compete in the Repechage Rd 2. A win here will set-up a Bronze medal match play-off for the Indian wrestler. Sakshi’s opponent is yet to be decided.
2154 hrs IST: Koblova beats Tynybekova 4-1, she is through to the gold medal round. Sakshi will now have a shot at bronze medal in the repechage
2145 hrs IST: Our reporter in Rio informs us that Vinesh Phogat has been taken to the athletes village for scans
2132 hrs IST: Tynybekova takes on Koblova in the semis. If the Russian wins, Sakshi stays alive and will have a shot at bronze. But to win bronze, the Indian will have to win her next three bouts
2108 hrs IST: Referee raises Koblova’s hand and she’s now through to the semis with a 9-2 win over Sakshi Malik. If Koblova manages to reach the gold-medal bout, Sakshi will have a shot at bronze
2107 hrs IST: Two more points and it’s all but over for Malik, who trails 2-7
2106 hrs IST: The Russian with enormous strength, hits back to pocket four points, in the lead
2105 hrs IST: Malik with a forward take down, and she earns two points to now lead 2-1
2104 hrs IST: Time is running out for Malik. She is still behind by a point
2103 hrs IST: Koblova takes the first period 1-0. Work to do for the Indian in the 2nd
2102 hrs IST: Koblova gets a technical point after Malik fails to score a point in the 30 seconds
2100 hrs IST: Malik and Koblova walk out for their quarters clash. Koblova is world championship silver medallist while Malik won a silver at Glasgow CWG
2040 hrs IST: Sakshi Malik’s next match is against Russia’s Valeriia Koblova. It is about to begin shortly
2035 hrs IST: India’s medal hopes on Day 12 now rest on the shoulders of Sakshi Malik, who will be in action shortly
2034 hrs IST: Vinesh, after getting her injured knee wrapped, leaves the arena on a stretcher
2031 hrs IST: The bout goes to Sun Yanan of China, who is through to the semis. Vinesh continues to receive treatment
2029 hrs IST: Vinesh is flat on the mat, receiving attention and the referee calls for a stretcher. This is not good for India
2028 hrs IST: First point of the bout goes to Vinesh. Chinese hits back with a single-leg takedown, earns two points and hurts Vinesh in the process
2026 hrs IST: Half-way into the first round and both wrestlers yet to open their account
2024 hrs IST: Vinesh outplayed her opponent in the opening round but she’s up against a formiddable Chinese opponent Sun Yanan
2019 hrs IST: At the end of the match, it is 5-5 but Malik wins on bigger points gain
2019 hrs IST: Cherdivara with her own take-down now and it is 5-5 now with 19 seconds left on the clock
2018 hrs IST: Double take-down by Malik and she leads 5-3 now!
2017 hrs IST: Now Cherdivara doesn’t make most of her 30-second advantage to get one point
2015 hrs IST: Malik is down 0-3 after first period.
2014 hrs IST: Cherdivara sends Malik to the mat and that’s two points to her. Leads 3-0
2013 hrs IST: Sakshi with thirty seconds to make most of advantage but doesn’t. That’s one point then for Cherdivara
2012 hrs IST: Sakshi Malik against Cherdivara of Moldova is now underway
1932 hrs IST: Up next for Sakshi Malik is Mariana Cherdivara of Moldova and for Vinesh Phogat is Yanan Sun of China
1914 hrs IST: Vinesh Phogat pushes Vuc on to the mat and that’s four points for the Indian. Referral taken but not going to make a difference. Four points stand! Vinesh Phogat wins by a greater superiority (10-0) in first bout
1913 hrs IST: Vic being more careful in this second period. Not being overly aggressive to give in any room but she needs to make something before Phogat races away with it.
1911 hrs IST: Vinesh Phogat leads 6-0 at the end of first period
1911 hrs IST: Phogat with another two points with yet another take down. Big, big lead!
1908 hrs IST: Vinesh Phogat with lovely bit of wrestling to make most of her strong hold. 4-0 up!
1907 hrs IST: Blow for Phogat as she seems to have twisted her elbow in the first twenty seconds!
1905 hrs IST: Vinesh Phogat is up next against Romania’s Emilia Alina Vuc
1847 hrs IST: Malik with a final second flourish and she wins 5-4!!
1846 hrs IST: Malik had a chance to go for the grab and two points but its just one point for now. 10 seconds remain
1845 hrs IST: A minute remains and both wrestlers not letting go of any gap
1844 hrs IST: Sakshi has two points back and she has two minutes make a difference. Plenty of time
1843 hrs IST: Sakshi Malik is down 0-4 quickly and down in the first period
1840 hrs IST: Sakshi Malik is first to take the mat for India. She’s up against Malin Johanna Mattsson of Sweden.
This Monday, a few weeks before her Olympic debut, Vinesh Phogat was shooting a television promo. She blinks hard through the glare of light boxes. The filmmakers want to capture her in different angles. ‘Look to the left.’ ‘Cross your arms.’ The 21-year old obliges with unpracticed intensity. She squares her broad shoulders and looks into the camera. “I am Vinesh Phogat and I am ready for the Rio Olympics,” she says. It’s a good take but the producer seeks more options. ‘One front-on,’ and Vinesh follows the drill, mouthing her line about ten times before the ad men are satisfied.
Her multiple reaffirmations of her ability were recorded nonchalantly. But it wasn’t always this way. Only a few months back, Vinesh had been racked with self doubt. She had had three chances to qualify for the Olympics in the space of four months and had faltered badly each time. “Did I really belong at the Olympics. Was I talented? Was I actually any good or did people make me out to be something I was not,” Vinesh recalls thinking. ‘I am Vinesh Phogat and I doubt whether I am ready for Rio Olympics,’ would have been a more apt line from that vulnerable phase.
The self doubt gremlins were something Vinesh was unused to. She was always touted as the next big thing. Her oldest cousin Geeta had broken ground when she became the first Indian woman wrestler to win a Commonwealth wrestling gold and later qualify for the London Olympics. Vinesh, who was recognised early in her career as one of most talented Indian women wrestlers was seen as someone who would go even further.
Just not others, but the self confidence in her invincibility is quite astonishing. It set in quite early in her life; winning had become a habit even before she began to wrestle. “When I was in school, we had to run a 200m race in the school games day. I was running when suddenly somebody tripped me. But I got up and still managed to win the race. I thought I was unbeatable,” recalls Vinesh.
The winning run would continue on the mat. She says she has never lost to an Indian wrestler.
So much so that she couldn’t believe it when she encountered her first loss in 2010. “The first match I lost in my life was in the final of the Asian Cadet championships to a Japanese wrestler (Irie Namami) in Japan. I lost only by a couple of points, but I couldn’t believe it. That was when I realised I could lose as well.,” she says.
And while there would be more losses, they were infrequent. Vinesh would win two bronze and a silver at the Asian Championships. At the 2014 Asian Games, she finished with a bronze, giving eventual winner and three-time world champion Eri Tosaka her closest bout (6-4) of the tournament. She had already matched Geeta’s gold medal run at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She was scarcely 20 then.
Wrestling wasn’t her first love. She didn’t even like it initially. “Who wants to do it when you have your tau (Mahavir Phogat) beating you with a stick and then yelling ‘how will you win a medal at the Olympics if you train like this?’ I didn’t like wrestling as a kid. When I was little I preferred being in school with my friends and laughing and having a good time.” she says.
Even after she started to wrestle, it wasn’t an all-consuming affair. Wrestling was something she was just very good at. It was also just one of the things she felt she could do very well. “Life changed after cadet nationals. I still thought I could study and wrestle. In fact for the first year of my cadet camp, I carried my books with me as well. I felt I would be the first person who came first in class as well as wrestling.
Her personality continued to develop, so did the reputation as freethinking individual who spoke her mind. “I like being independent. I like being free.” The trait was noticed by others. “Vinesh is someone who speaks her mind. If she feels something isn’t right she will take a stand,” says Rucha Kalashkar. The JSW physio recounted an instance from earlier this year, when the hostelers at the women’s olympic wrestling camp at the SAI, Lucknow campus had problems with the food being served. “Despite being amongst the youngest of the campers, Vinesh was among the first wrestlers to protest. And eventually the contractor was changed,” says Kalashkar.
Not everyone has responded positively to her personality, “My friends sometimes say I have a habit of talking too bluntly. Sometimes my independence gets me into trouble as well.” She has also encountered conservatism from certain quarters. “When you go for tournaments, you travel with other wrestlers and normally everyone eats in fixed groups. They only sit with each other, but I always move and try to eat with someone else everyday. And people might say ‘oh look at her she is talking to a male wrestler’, even if I was just talking about the sport. But that’s not something that should matter,” says Vinesh.
She is admirably clear-headed in those situations. “I don’t have time for shayads (maybe’s) in my life. If you want to go ahead, go, or else get out of my way.”
Her distinct attitude manifested on the mat as well, sometimes leading to misconceptions. “Vinesh is someone who is always joking in practice. She always has a smile on her face. Not all coaches understand. They will say ‘why are you laughing? Why are you smiling?’ But it’s not like she is fooling around. When she is in competition, it will be like she turns a switch in her head and becomes very focused. But that’s the way she is” Kalashkar says.
So it’s no surprise that Vinesh has an active life outside the mat. “Because wrestling is such an old game the thinking associated with it is sometimes old as well. So people think that the reason those guys won is because they did old fashioned things. They believe that unless you do nothing but wrestle all day, you can’t be any good at it. But I can’t be one of those people for whom wrestling is the only thing they do in life. Some of the older wrestlers have that attitude. But that would be so boring,” she says.
While despite her best attempts, studies were too hard to manage along with a hectic career, Vinesh has other interests. She prides herself on being an excellent cook. “When I was very little, I would make these tiny rotis that my father would insist on eating. Even now when I get time, I’ll cook for me and my friends,” she says.
Fame can sit uneasily on most. Not many can handle it adeptly. Vinesh, however, is different. She had always dreamed about being known widely, and not reduced to the small world of her village . “I always had the dream that I would be known. That I would not end up in a small village like Ballali. Wrestling is good but I always wanted people to know who I was,” she says. So, she takes great delight in using the social media and is a natural at it. She is particularly active on image sharing network Instagram, posting pictures of training, motivational quotes and even the odd new hairstyle. “Instagram is a nice way to keep in touch with your fans.”
Kalashkar believes Vinesh’s thinking is due to her being part of a different generation. “Vinesh is a lot more easy going than (older cousins) Geeta or Babita. She will take on whatever comes to her. While the others are cautious. Simply because she hasn’t spent as much time with the seniors,” she says.
Vinesh has a different perspective. “I am my father’s daughter. My mom would always say my father was like that. He was always interested in learning something different. And once he decided to do something, he would never back down from it,” she says.
That never-give-up attitude pays off directly on the mat. “Confidence is what sets me apart from other wrestlers,”says Vinesh. “Your confidence comes through in your body language.”
She then makes a startling observation. “If you watch a wrestling bout nearly all the time, you can predict who is going to win the bout just by how they stand next to each other on the mat.”
Like any combat sport, wrestlers try to pack in as much muscle as possible while still making weight. The process of weight cutting begins about a month before the day of the competition. Most wrestlers in the 48-kg category – the lightest in competition – will drop about four or five kilos of water and body mass in the weeks leading up to competition. Vinesh who switches between competing in the 48 and 53kg division, would cut nearly double that – up to 8kg – in order to make the former category.
The drastic weight loss – almost 15 percent of bodyweight in Vinesh’s case – can be devastating physiologically and psychologically. “I’ll get angry really quickly and it’s a lot worse when I am cutting weight. So people know not to get in my way at that point of time,” laughs Vinesh.
The trade off, though, is that come competition day, post the weigh-in, a rehydrated Vinesh has a significant strength advantage over her rivals.
Yet all these advantages seemed to count for nothing when Vinesh tried to qualify for the Olympics. She first failed to qualify in the top six at the World Championships losing in the first round to North Korean world bronze medalist Kim Hyon-gyong. A couple of months later she missed her second opportunity at the Asian qualifiers, where needing to reach the finals to qualify, she lost in the semifinals by a solitary point to eventual champion Zhuldyz Eshimova.
The hardest blow though would come at the World Olympic qualification tournament in Mongolia. Vinesh wouldn’t even get on the mat, after she showed up for the weigh in 400gm above the weight limit. That embarrassment crushed her confidence.
The weight mishap had led to a storm of rebuke. The critics came out of the woodwork. Rumours swirled that she was willfully not participating due to doping concerns at the Belarus center where the team was training. Some said Vinesh never even tried to make weight. The wrestling federation would issue her a show-cause notice asking her to explain the reason for her failure, even as she begged for another chance to prove herself.
Kalashkar believes Vinesh’s failure to make weight wasn’t due to her fault, putting it down to conditions in Bulgaria. “When she went from India to Bulgaria, we felt she was a little heavier than she had to be but it wasn’t something that couldn’t be controlled. But what we realised later on was that the water in Bulgaria had a very high mineral content. This made the body retain fluid a lot harder,” Kalashkar says.
Vinesh too contests the charge that she hadn’t made an attempt to cut weight. “After training, I was spending hours in the sauna till my body felt it was burning up on inside, but I just wasn’t able to drop the weight,” she recalls. Breaking down with dehydration, Vinesh says she told her coaches there was no way she could make weight. She feels this may have something to do with the allegations of insubordination.
But more than the censure, it was the loss of self belief that was most troubling for Vinesh . “I was seen as someone who was expected to win a medal at the Olympics. First I wasn’t even looking like I could qualify. And now I couldn’t even cut weight properly? For the first time in my career I really started doubting myself. “ she recalls thinking.
It was a painful oscillation between self-pity and harsh self-criticism. Vinesh knew it was ultimately self-defeating. “When you start doubting you lose a lot faster. You aren’t thinking of your opponent anymore. When your mind wanders, you have to drag it into the right place, even if it doesn’t want to go there,” she says.
At her final chance at the second World Qualification tournament in Istanbul, Kalashkar recalls how Vinesh had made the mental switch away from despondency. “She was just really angry at herself. She knew she had the ability but she was not doing what she could to make it count,” she says.
Indeed Vinesh would dominate the competition dropping just three points and beating former World silver medalist Iwona Matkowska to take the gold.
Beyond just qualification, what Istanbul did is give Vinesh her confidence back. The road ahead is long and hard. Ranked 13 in the world, a medal at the Olympics isn’t a guarantee either. But having found her self belief back, it’s no surprise that Vinesh Phogat can look into a TV camera and confidently say “I am ready for the Olympics”.