Battler Sakshi blazes a new trail

Battler Sakshi blazes a new trail

Haryana grappler rallies in style to win the 58kg bout to help India open medal account

Battler Sakshi blazes a new trail

 Wrapped herself in Tricolour, Sakshi Malik was India’s bundle of joy on Wednesday. All because of a medal which was taking an eternity in coming; which came only because of a never-say-die attitude, a rare trait in her compatriots.

In the women’s 58kg category bout against Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova to decide the bronze medallist, Sakshi refused to accept defeat as an option. She was down, on the verge of defeat, but just the thought of returning home empty-handed kept her competitive juices flowing at the Carioca Arena.

It was her survival instinct shining through. In the face of such aggression and determination, Tynybekova’s 5-0 lead, which looked commanding at one point, became tiny and then, non-existent. Within seconds, it was Sakshi who was in front, raking up points, surging towards victory and soaring high on the shoulders of her coach Kuldeep Singh.

“It is my dream of 12 years coming true,” said Sakshi moments after fulfilling the dreams of millions of her countrymen with an 8-5 verdict, scripted within the final nine seconds. “It was a high pressure match because it was a medal match. But I was very confident I would win.”

Indeed, India’s first medal of these Olympic Games could not have come in harder circumstances. Sakshi had nursed ambitions of a medal all along but she stuttered in the quarterfinals to Russia’s Valeria Zholobova Koblova. Luckily for Sakshi, Koblova made her way to the final, making the Indian eligible to compete in the repechage bouts.

Orkhon Purvedorj of Mongolia was her first opponent. Sakshi tackled her with a measure of comfort with a 12-3 margin. Then came Tynybekova in the bronze or nothing match.

The Kyrgyzstan lady was cautious at first. So was Sakshi but the Indian was penalised for being passive and lost a point when she failed to notch one point for herself in the stipulated 30-second period. Tynybekova seemed quicker than Sakshi and twice she managed to take the Indian down, catching her leg with fast attacks.

Tynybekova led 5-0 after the first period of three minutes and a sombre mood gripped the Indian fans. Sakshi’s fightback began in the second period. She caught her rival by her leg and almost hoisted her; she then took her down and turned her around to draw level and then surged into lead at 7-5 in the final few seconds even as a desperate Tynybekova tried to hang on.

As the time ran out, Sakshi was a clear winner but the Kyrgyz lady refused to accept defeat. She asked for a video referral, which she lost. Still, she was reluctant to come forward and shake her rival’s hands and had to be cajoled by the referee to do so. Much before that, the celebrations had begun in the Indian camp, with Sakshi’s coach jumping onto the mat for a victory lap.

As Sakshi enveloped herself in the colours of her country, India’s moment had finally arrived in Rio -- a bit too late, but better late than never.

Sakshi factfile

Name: Sakshi Malik
Born: September 3, 1992; Rohtak, Haryana
Early career: Began wrestling at the age of 12 under coach Ishwar Dahiya
Had to ward off the barbs from a society which frowned upon girls in wrestling.
Major feats: Won the World Junior bronze in 2010 in 59kg class.
Won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and bronze at the Asian Games
Won bronze at the 2015 Asian Championships
Won a spot in Rio after defeating Lan Zhang of China in the qualifiers in Istanbul this year.
Is the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal, fourth woman after Karnam Mallewsari, Saina Nehwal and M C Mary Kom.

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