Teenaged wrestler Sonam Malik ready to chase Tokyo Olympics medal
It is understandable if the hype around India’s wrestlers bound for the Tokyo Olympics hasn’t touched Sonam Malik. For one, she is just 19, and is also gradually regaining form after an injury had sidelined her in the last few months.
That does not mean the youngster will reach Tokyo with any doubts in her mind. Like her idol, Sakshi Malik, whose spirited efforts ensured bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics and helped India return with a wrestling medal from the third Games in a row.
Sonam has already given notice of her talent, defeating Sakshi four times in as many face-offs before sealing qualification for Tokyo. The wins against the experienced Sakshi, who has 12 international medals, including two gold, speak volumes of Sonam’s confidence.
Like in Rio, most Indians will again be rooting for world No. 1 Vinesh Phogat (53 kg), who takes to the mat at the Makuhari Messe Hall A in Tokyo on August 5, determined to make amends after an injury during a bout dashed her medal hopes in Rio.
Sonam, who is in 62kg, though competes a day earlier and has a great opportunity to make her presence felt in Japan.
It wasn’t merely against Sakshi that Sonam has impressed. Her showing in the Olympic qualifiers at Almaty, Kazakhstan in April was a treat to watch too. She overcame the experienced Ayaulym Kassymova of the host country in the semi-finals, qualifying for Tokyo. She trailed by six points, but the Haryana girl bounced back to level scores at six-all after the interval, then taking a three-point lead that proved decisive.
Sonam though suffered a knee injury during the bout and had to give a walkover in the final. She struggled to shake off that injury, continuing her rehabilitation at the Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Sports Complex, a few yards away from home in Gohana, in Haryana’s Sonepat district. “The injury was difficult, but I didn’t lose patience, I kept fighting hard. Even after trailing by a big margin, I was sure of winning in the qualifying event,” Sonam says.
She hates comparisons with Sakshi, while acknowledging that she has learnt a lot from her senior. “I want to stay humble. People will automatically start talking about me when I come back with an Olympic medal around my neck,” Sonam says with confidence.
Unlike athletes in her age-group, Sonam has kept a check on her social media interactions for now. “I don’t have any (other) social media account. I have a Twitter account, but that is only for likes and re-tweets. I don’t post anything about myself. Mera bhi din ayega (My time will also come),” she said.
Winner of two gold and a bronze in cadet world championships, Sonam is confident of regaining peak form in Tokyo. “I have fully recovered from the injury; I’m 200% ready for any challenge at the Olympics,” she says.
Her personal coach Ajmer Malik is happy his young ward is not under the spotlight. “It’s good nobody is watching her now. Let her start as an underdog. I am sure about her podium finish. Her wins against Sakhi are not a fluke. She is capable of springing a surprise on many.”
Sonam and two other Tokyo-bound women wrestlers Anshu Malik (57 kg) and Seema Bisla (50 kg) started training under national coach Kuldeep Malik at the pre-Olympic camp in Sports Authority of India’s Sonepat centre on Wednesday. They fly to Tokyo on July 26.
“I won’t be there at the national camp as I have to take care of daily training of 60-odd wrestlers at the complex here in Gohana,” Ajmer points out. “Her brother and coach Mohit and sparring partner Ravi will be there to train with her.”
He is grateful the Wrestling Federation of India allowed Sonam to train and get treated at home. “Even in the past, we managed to treat Sonam well with our own natural treatment; this time too the process has worked well. Regular applying of a paste made of onion and forest leaves has had an amazing effect on her injury; she will be carrying these natural remedy to the camp,” Ajmer says.
“Because of her treatment at home, Sonam chose not to travel abroad on an exposure trip (World Ranking Series in Poland last month) as she knew the injury could have erupted again. We not only managed her treatment well but also her training, especially physical fitness and skills,” the coach says. “For the last one week, she has also started training on mat and the result is really great.”