From yearning to fly in an aero plane as a kid to clinching a bronze in the Olympics, the biggest sporting stage of all, Haryana wrestler Sakshi Malik has come a long way in her fairy-tale journey to etch her name in the sporting history of the country.
Born into a humble family at Mokhra village near Rohtak, Sakshi tried playing kabaddi and cricket in her childhood but wrestling became her favourite sport after she started “winning bouts”. But, little did she and her parents knew at that time that one day she would become the first woman wrestler from the country to win an Olympic medal.
Sakshi last night ended the country’s painful wait for a medal at the Rio Olympic Games by clinching the bronze medal in the 58kg category, pulling off a sensational 8-5 victory over her rival in the play-off bout.
The 23-year-old wrestler also became only the fourth woman athlete from India to win an Olympic medal as she earned the dramatic win after falling behind 0-5 in the do-or-die bout on day 12. Her bronze is the country’s fifth medal overall in wrestling in the Olympics.
“I never knew what an Olympics was, I wanted to become a sportsperson to travel in an aeroplane. If you can represent India, you can board a plane, and fly,” Sakshi told PTI on the sidelines of a marathon round of interviews to hordes of elated Indian scribes late into the night at the Main Press Centre here.
Interestingly, her elder brother was named after cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin, who’s two-years older to her, would ask Sakshi to play cricket, but she would often say ‘no’ and would stare at the sky with aeroplanes flying high. Her family always supported her to pursue her dream.
“Parents never forced me, they supported me well in wrestling. Now when I spoke to them briefly after winning the bronze they started crying in joy. I told them, it’s time to celebrate,” Sakshi said.
One defining moment for India at the Rio Games was when Sakshi was lifted by her coach Kuldeep Malik as the duo did a lap of honour before she sat bending on her knees with the tri-colour wrapped around her and a packed hall at the Carioca Arena 2 giving her a standing ovation.
“It was a dream come true for me and I had already pre-planned to celebrate this way,” Sakshi said about winning the bronze medal through repechage after beating Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan 8-5 in the women’s 58kg freestyle.
The toughest phase for Sakshi was when she “struggled” to win a silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014, a lesson that had helped her in winning bronze in Rio.
“Everyone was getting medals. Such was the pressure that I thought it would be difficult to return home without a medal. I was under much less pressure here. Haar gaye toh kya ho jayega, lekin jeet gaye toh kya ho jayega... I just had a free mind. I did not fight with pressure, and it helped.”