Sakshi Malik got India its first medal at the Rio Olympics when she won her 58kg freestyle bronze medal bout against Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan. She prevailed 8-5 on technical points in a late comeback, defying the early 0-5 lead of her opponent. The final result saw her prevail 3-1 on classification points. The medal came through repechage after she had earlier been eliminated in the quarters.
“I was confident all along. I always felt I would win. I did not back down and kept pushing. This is historic for Indian women wrestlers,” said the elated 23-year-old after the win. “This is the result of over ten years of hard work. I feel proud and special that I could get this medal for India.”
India’s first medal at Rio is a matter of chance at so many levels. For starters, Malik got into the squad for the qualifying event in Turkey. The competition in Istanbul was the last qualification event for the Rio Games, with just the top two finishers assured of a quota place. There she managed to beat Lan Zhang of China in a tight semifinal bout to book a historic Olympic berth.
Even at Turkey she had fallen to Valeria Koblova Zholobova of Russia, her nemesis here in the quarterfinal. That Zholobova made it all the way to the finals allowed Malik a second chance, in the repêchage, given the rules of the sport. In the repêchage, Malik outclassed Mongolia’s Orkhon Purevdorj to win 12-3 and advance to the bronze medal bout.
India and repêchage have a good history. Sushil Kumar’s bronze in the Beijing Olympics, in 2008, also came from this second opportunity. Repêchage is a French word that literally translates into ‘another chance’ and the format is followed in sports like judo, wrestling, rowing and taekwondo.
However, it’s one thing to get an opportunity, it’s quite another to convert it. Malik did just that.
Malik is one of the few Indian wrestlers who can speak English and is looking to pursue an education. She is presently pursuing her MA in physical education from Dayanand University, Rohtak. She has not been the favourite of the federation, and her triumph is a great tale of just how the capricious deities of sport favour the brave.