The first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics, Sakshi Malik now has her sights on another Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020.
Among them is Sakshi Malik, who ended India’s dry spell at the 2016 Rio Olympics by bagging a bronze medal. India was glued to the TV screen as we watched her take on Kyrgyz wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova. After she won, Sakshi wrapped herself in the Tricolour, becoming an inspiration to future generations.
Recalling the moment, Sakshi says:
“I wish I could describe the feeling. It was emotional, overwhelming and a very proud moment. For a while, I had no idea what was happening. When I realised, I was on top of the world. I was happy that years of hard work had finally paid off.”
“Standing at the Olympic podium, watching the Indian flag among the top three is the proudest moment for an athlete,” says the 25-year-old, who became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal for wrestling.
Her victory was rather dramatic after she fell behind 0-5 in the do-or-die bout. It seemed like India would again lose out. In her qualifying round, Sakshi had come back from 0-4 to win the match with 5-4.
She attributes her hard-earned victory to her physical and mental prowess.
Sakshi says, “Physical power because I played out the whole six minutes, which required a lot of strength. My opponent was struggling to keep up and play out the entire bout. I took advantage of her tiredness and played my best. My mental power - to come back from an eight-point deficit and eventually win - was also a big contributing factor.”
While talking about power, we ask her what “power” means to her as a woman. She promptly replies,
“As a woman, power signifies faith. Faith to believe in your dreams and your abilities.”
Sakshi belongs to Mokhra village in Rohtak, Haryana. Her father, Sukhbir Malik, is a bus conductor with Delhi Transport Corporation, while her mother, Sudesh, works a supervisor at a local health clinic.
Her family has been very supportive throughout her journey.
“My family has played a huge role in making me who I am today. I come from a community where women are not allowed to even step out of their homes. But they never stopped me or clipped my wings,” the gritty wrestler says.
Sakshi had an interest in all sports since her childhood. However, she had heard from family members about her grandfather, who was also a wrestler. Her interest in wrestling grew and things crystallised in her mind when she heard about a wrestling academy and saw the sport first hand.
“It was at that moment that I decided I would pursue wrestling.”
Sakshi’s journey has been filled with ups and downs.
“I started wrestling 12-13 years back. In the initial days, I found it tough to cope with school, tuition and training. During this phase, I even thought of quitting. But my interest grew once I took part in various competitions. After that, I never looked back. My only aim was to win a medal for India.”
Sakshi rose to prominence after she won the bronze in the Junior World Championship in 2010. She went on to win a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a bronze at the Asian Wrestling Championship in 2015.
Attributing her success to JSW Sports, she says: “I have come this far as JSW Sports recognised my talent and nurtured it through better facilities, training and other support.”
The 25-year-old says it is important to concentrate on your strengths and sport.
She says, “The moment you start to focus on what sets you back or maybe a hindrance, you lose focus. Of course, wrestling was a male-dominated field. But things are now changing; there are so many young wrestlers coming to the fore. It has happened not only because of emerging talent but because these girls have chosen to look beyond the obstacles.”
Sakshi feels every girl, in every profession who chooses to dedicate herself to her dream “fights her own battles every day”.
“These girls should be their own role models,” she says, adding that there is a need to promote films based on sports and female athletes as they can help change people’s mindset.
After the Rio Olympics, Sakshi was conferred with India’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. She is also the brand ambassador of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign in Haryana.
Speaking about the campaign, she says: “I am privileged to be the face of this campaign in Haryana. I try and promote it in every way I can. I speak about it at every public occasion as I believe the more we talk about this, the more we will be aware and create awareness. It is a great honour to be named the brand ambassador of such a campaign; it is a great opportunity for me to help girls and do something for the women of our country.”
Her hunger to win another medal for India has led her to prepare hard for the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, both in 2018. Her heart is also set on winning another Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020.
“I am training harder. I know I have three more years to go for Tokyo, but every day is going to be crucial step forward and that’s how I am going to move ahead. I want to set a new record and become the first Indian woman wrestler with two Olympic medals. My motivation is now stronger than ever. I know I can do it, but I only want to do better now and change the colour of my medal.”
We hope she does and makes us proud, once again.