By Gaurav Sharma
New Delhi–Despite trailing in most of her bouts at the Rio Olympics, wrestler Sakshi Malik managed to settle for the bronze medal in the women’s 58kg category. But she clarified that she intentionally applied the wait and watch strategy to overpower her opponents.
Sakshi, who became the fourth woman athlete from India to win an Olympic medal, settled for the bronze in the do-or-die bout on the 12th day of the quadrennial extravaganza. But her performance was not up to the mark as compared to her performances in the Olympic qualifiers and other international tournaments in the run-up to the Rio Games.
In her first round qualification match, Sakshi fought back from a 0-4 deficit to win 5-4 against Sweden’s Malin Johanna Mattson and in the bronze medal match, the 23-year-old grappler was trailing 0-5 in the first period when she turned the tables on Kyrgyzstan wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova in the dying seconds to clinch the issue 8-5.
“It was my strategy to remain calm in the first three minutes as I have to remain there for six minutes because I know that foreign girls cannot maintain the same level of energy throughout the whole match, they usually get tired,” Sakshi told IANS when asked how she managed to overturn the deficits on three of the four other bouts earlier that day.
“First three minutes they attack you with full energy but in next three minutes they somehow lack intensity. So I wanted to take the advantage of that and I knew that the next three minutes were mine and then I attacked to overpower them,” she added.
Asked about her mental state at the time when the other Indian athletes were not performing well at Rio and then fellow female wrestler Vinesh Phogat suffered an injury, Sakshi said the setbacks to the other Indians affected her morale, but her coach supported her and gave her confidence.
Vinesh had sustained a knee injury half-way into the first period of her women’s 48kg quarter-final bout against China’s Sun Yanan.
“It was already 12 days without medals and it hurts you a lot when you see like this. Many of our players like Abhinav Bindra missed the medal by a whisker and then the injury of Vinesh,” Sakshi said.
“So there were lot of thing going on in my mind and there was a point I became weak but my coach supported me throughout and told me that now all depends on you so you have to do your best. From there onwards, I did what he said.”
“Me and my coach got very emotional with Vinesh’s injury but then I took it as motivation and did my best there,” she added.
It will not be an exaggeration to call the Phogat sisters the first family of Indian women’s wrestling.
The three sisters — Geeta, Babita and Vinesh — have been the torch-bearer of Indian women’s wrestling. More so Geeta, who became the country’s first woman wrestler to win a world championship medal in 2012.
When asked about the dominance of the three sisters and whether it affected her, Sakshi replied in the negative, adding that the trio treated her as one of them during the national camps and international tournaments.
“They all are very strong and it brings lot of positivity in the camp. I learnt a lot from them and especially from Geeta. They treat me as their sister. On mat we are opponents but off-mat we are sisters,” she added.