While all eyes in Rio were on Vinesh Phogat, the then 23-year-old Sakshi literally came from nowhere to salvage some pride for India, along with shuttler PV Sindhu’s silver, at an otherwise disappointing outing at the Games. India finished with just two medals in 2016.
The scenes of Vinesh writhing in pain on the mat sent shivers down the spines of India’s contingent and fans watching across the world. She was one of the top medal contenders and looked like the player to beat in the 48kg division. But the freak knee injury in the quarterfinal shattered her dreams.
In all fairness, Sakshi wasn’t tipped to finish on the podium in the 58kg division. But she didn’t let her destined chance at the Olympics go astray.
In the run-up to the 2016 Olympics, Geeta was handed a provisional suspension for forfeiting her bronze-medal match at the Ulaanbaatar Olympic qualifiers. It resulted in 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Sakshi getting picked by the Wrestling Federation of India for the next Olympic-qualifying event in Istanbul.
Sakshi Malik 🇮🇳 – The road to Olympic Bronze | Athlete Highlights
Sakshi defeated China’s Zhang Lan in the semifinal to book her ticket to Rio.
In Rio, Sakshi progressed to the quarterfinals on the back of some tight wins, but lost to Valeria Koblova of Russia 2-9 in the last-eight match. Koblova, however, made it to the final, which gave Sakshi a new lease of life in the repechage rounds.
The Indian didn’t break a sweat in beating Purevdorj Orkhon of Mongolia 12-3 to enter the bronze-medal match with Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova who was the Asian champion at that time.
The medal round started on a disastrous note, with Sakshi going down 0-5, including a four-point takedown that gave Tynybekova an added advantage just in case the bout ended in a tie. Sakshi paid for some defensive errors early on.
A huge thank you to everyone for their support and constant encouragement! #JaiHind #JeetoRio https://t.co/1WXdfYpOm6
— Sakshi Malik (@SakshiMalik) 1471525820000
She, though, managed to summon every bit of her resilience to rally in style and level the match at 5-5 and then snatched the medal out of her opponent’s grasp with a move that left the Kyrgyzstan wrestler in shock. Sakshi won 8-5 and had a look of disbelief on her face before realising the history she had created.
Sakshi’s joy had no end. She had broken a barrier for women wrestlers in India, bringing them level with their famed male counterparts KD Jadhav, Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, who were India’s only Olympic-medal winning wrestlers until then.