Coach Ishwar Singh Dahiya still remembers the day when a 10-year-old Sakshi Malik accompanied her mother Sudesh Malik to the Sir Chotu Ram Stadium Wrestling Academy in Rohtak. Hailing from the village Mokhra near Rohtak, the young Sakshi would then come with her mother daily to the academy and would also train with the boys.
More than a decade later, Dahiya’s trainee went on to win India’s first medal at Rio 2016 Olympics and the first medal by an Indian woman wrestler when she came back from behind to beat Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova in the bronze medal clash.
“She has done her village Mokhra and the whole India proud. I spoke with coach Kuldeep Malik and her after the second round repechage win over the Mongolian wrestler and she sounded confident. The fact that the Mongolian wrestler had earlier defeated Japan’s Kaori Icho in February meant that that bout was also tough. The win against world number 3 Sweden’s Johanna Matsson was the defining moment also. She showed a lot of character today and her medal has also meant a lot for fellow wrestler Vinesh, who had to bow out with an injury,” shared 60-year-old coach Ishwar Singh Dahiya, who has been training wrestlers in Rohtak since 1993.
Sakshi won her first major medal at sub-junior Asian level in 2006 and consistent success at the national and international level inducted her into the senior training camp along with wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Anita. Coach Malik recalls how he requested the then Wrestling federation of India president GS Mandher to include Sakshi in the camp.
“When she had first come to the academy, she would feel nervous initially but her fear disappeared with training and she won medals at the Asian sub-junior level. In 2007, I requested Mandher sir to include her in the senior camp but being a sub-junior wrestler it was not possible. But then she was included as training partner for Geeta and other seniors. This made her confident and whenever she used to come to Rohtak, she would share stories about senior camp. That was the moment which shaped her career,” shared the coach.
While Rohtak had seen the success of wrestlers like Suman Kundu, Sunita and Kavita at the international competitions, Sakshi cemented her place when she won the silver at 2014 Commonwealth Games. The talented wrestler qualified for Rio after a 10-10 bout against China’s Lan Zhang in the semi-finals of second Olympic qualifier in Istanbul in May this year. “Initially there were only 3-4 girls training here at the academy. There were senior players like Sunita, Kavita and Suman Kundu and all of them would also train with boys here at the academy in Rohtak. And that included Sakshi also. There was some opposition here at Rohtak but the players supported that and all the girls would train along with boys. Whenever Sakshi would win, the boys here would also bring sweets for Sakshi and we all celebrated this. On Thursday morning also, we will celebrate it and all the boys and girls wrestlers will be elated,” shared the coach.