A bronze-medal fillip for women's wrestling

A bronze-medal fillip for women's wrestling

Breaking stereotypes

A bronze-medal fillip for women's wrestling

Of all the three Rio Games-bound women wrestlers, Sakshi Malik was the least popular. Neither was she the favourite to make the cut the in 58-kg category which was owned by India’s pioneer woman wrestler Geeta Phogat.

The 23-year-old was the la­st minute replacement for Ge­eta in the final Olympic qualif­ication event in Istanbul after the veteran was suspen­ded on the grounds of indiscipline. Sa­kshi didn’t disappoint and rest, as they say, is now history.

The girl who had wrestled under the shadows of the Pho­gat sisters -- Geeta, Babita and Vinesh -- became the trailblazer of women’s wrestling on Thursday. Her bronze medal in the Rio Games has the potential to create an impact, which women wrestlers have been pining for. More importantly, it will spur several young women who still have to fight stereotypes to make a foray into a contact sport like wrestling.

A decade ago Sakshi, who hails from the village Mokhra near Rohtak, Haryana, experienced similar questions despite not facing the trappings of finances. Her mother Su­d­e­sh Malik, an anganwadi worker, revealed what attracted a 10-year-old Sakshi to wres­tl­ing was its costume which she saw wrestler Kavita wearing while fighting a bout in the Chotu Ram Academy in Roh­tak. The academy has produ­ced several good wrestlers li­ke Sunita and Suman Kundu. Sakshi, though, is going to be remembered as its brightest.

Her childhood coach Ishwar Dahiya from the academy taught her the nuances, making her fight bouts with boys and faced criticism from the locals. Sakshi gained confidence by being part of the senior camp while still a junior. She would often double up as the training partner of Geeta who became first Indian woman wrestler to qualify for Olympics in 2012.

“People would ask why you are putting your girl into wrestling. It is a sport for boys. But I said it doesn’t matter. Once the medals started coming, people stopped talking,” Sudesh told Deccan Herald.

Her house in Rohtak has been milling with people since morning, but the sweetness of Saskhi’s victory had fought out the fatigue of last 20 hours. “I couldn’t hold back my tears. She is very bold and sincere, we were expecting gold from her. I now want her to get that in 2020 Games.”

Her father, Sukhbir Malik, a DTC conductor viewed her daughter’s feat as an inspiration to other girls from Hary­ana, which is known for its weakest sex ratio. “Sakshi had shown prowess right from her junior days. Her success should inspire girls from the state to do well,” he said.

Sakshi’s accomplishments include a bronze medal at the 2010 Junior World Championships in the 59 kg category. The highlight of her career, though, remains a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in 59 kg. She booked the flight for Rio Games by winning silver in the Olympics Qualifiers in Istanbul, defeating Chinese Lan Zhang in the semifinal.

For long, the women wrestlers, including Sakshi, believed they needed an Olympic medal in order to be treated at par with their men counterparts. There is a world of difference between the facilities they get at SAI, Luckn­ow, and SAI Sonepat, the hub of country’s men wrestlers. Sakshi’ s bronze hopefully would now bridge the gap.

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