NEW DELHI: It has been almost three years since that fateful day in Rio when Sakshi Malik became a household name in India. The first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics, things have not gone according to plan since. But after securing her place in the women’s team for the World Championship, the 26-year-old is quietly confident of righting the wrongs.
Sakshi admits that before Rio, her mind was never cluttered and she would play her natural game irrespective of the situation. Something that was on display during the bronze medal bout against the then Asian champion Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan. After trailing 0-5, she went on to win 8-5 at the last moment.
Post that, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee has gone on to lose 8-11 in the second round of the 2018 Commonwealth Games where she was leading 4-0. In the Asian Games semifinals, she let a 7-6 advantage slip in the last five seconds to go down 7-8. Even in the repechage round of the World Championships in Budapest last October, Sakshi conceded a point in the last two seconds to end up on the losing end of a 3-2 scoreline. Then she lost in the quarterfinals of the Asian Championships last month.
“Everybody expected a medal from me wherever I participated. That sort of pressure was new to me. It was getting to me. I had become defensive in my approach. I have always been an attacking grappler. I used to try and gain some points and try to defend them till the end. That obviously didn’t work.”
But now the wrestler from Rohtak has gained back that mental freedom.
In her own words, she has matured a lot. And all these losses have in a way helped her get back to her original state. “I told myself, I have lost a lot and it can’t get worse than this. The only way for me now is up. I remain positive and my family, my husband and my in-laws have played a huge role in helping me reach here. My husband Satyawart Kadian (also a wrestler) knows how it feels and his support has been invaluable,” she told on the sidelines of an ASICS India event, where she was unveiled as their brand athlete.
This year has been kind on her so far. She beat reigning world champ Petra Olli of Finland at the Dan Kolov meet, while winning bronze at the Asian Championships in Xian. Her aim now is to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the very first attempt — the World Championships. “The top six in each weight category will qualify. But I also want to win a medal there. Last time, I had qualified at the final attempt. If you qualify at the first attempt, you get time to prepare — physically and mentally. But I won’t lose hope if it doesn’t happen. Tokyo is the ultimate destination and changing the colour of my medal is my main goal.”
That coveted bronze had come in the 58kg category. However, the Commonwealth Games silver winner has since moved on to the 62kg division. But she does not envisage any problem. “The world body keeps changing rules every four years. It is not a big issue. As far as the competition in 62kg is concerned, there is not much difference. Almost the same set of wrestlers will be there. Even the weigh-in rules have been tweaked. Earlier, the weight-in used to happen a day before but now they happen on the same day. My main aim now is to remain physically fit.”
NOT FOR BOYCOTT
Indian Olympic Association’s call for a boycott of the 2022 Commonwealth Games has not been endorsed by Sakshi Malik but she feels for the shooters and hopes a resolution can be reached. “Shooting is a huge medal hope for India and its exclusion will affect our tally. We are like a family, so it does pain me. I wish that the issue gets sorted and shooting can be included so that we don’t have to think about taking that extreme step.”