Sakshi Malik recalls how she wrestled Rio 2016 victory from jaws of defeat

Sakshi Malik engineered three come-from-behind victories, including in her bronze medal bout, en route to her Rio 2016 bronze.

By Utathya Nag ·

Five points down, four minutes into her bronze medal bout against Aisuluu Tynybekova at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the situation looked bleak for Sakshi Malik.

But the Indian wrestler, who eventually won the contest 8-5 to create history, revealed she never doubted her ability to make a comeback, not for a second.

“Yes, I was trailing 0-5 but I always felt there was still a lot of time left and I could make a comeback. If I would have let the chance go, it would have been a four-year wait,” Sakshi Malik reminisced about the historic contest during The Medal of Glory show on Sony Sports’ Facebook page.

“All I was telling myself was to give a hundred per cent and that there is a lot of time left. The bout kept progressing and I kept scoring points. First, I got two points and my confidence grew. I felt I could cover the deficit,” she added, delving deeper.

Sakshi Malik’s bronze on that night in the women’s 58kg freestyle wrestling category marked India’s first medal at the Games in women’s wrestling.

She also made her way into the elite club of five Indian women, also featuring Karnam Malleswari, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, who have won individual medals at the Olympics..

History written through comebacks

In fact, Sakshi Malik’s journey into the history books in Rio is a tale of several comebacks, not just one.

In the qualification round against Swedish grappler Johanna Mattsson, Sakshi Malik fell 0-4 behind within the first three minutes. The Indian wrestler, however, clicked into gear just at the right moment and eventually took the bout 5-4.

Then facing off against Moldova's Mariana Cherdivara in the Round of 16, Sakshi Malik found herself trailing yet again as the scoreboard read 0-3 against her. Unperturbed, Sakshi Malik put on an inspired performance in the second period to progress into the quarter-finals.

She did end up going down to Russia’s Valeria Koblova in the quarters but overcame Mongolia’s Pürevdorjiin Orkhon to set up her bronze medal bout against Aisuluu Tynybekova.

Being a role model

The iconic images of Sakshi Malik – the girl who beat the odds - taking her victory lap with the Indian flag has served as an inspiration to numerous Indian women and aspiring athletes since.

Sakshi Malik didn't have any idea about the Olympics until she started winning junior competitions

Addressing the impact of her achievement on future generations, Sakshi Malik said, “It’s not just about motivating the coming generations. Even my peers and fellow wrestlers who train with me know think that ‘If Sakshi didi can win a medal at the Olympics then why can’t we?’

“Even I didn’t think I could reach where I did,” she pointed out.

Sakshi Malik’s chances for Tokyo

Despite winning bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a below-par start to the 2020 season has seen Sakshi Malik’s chances of making it to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics take a hit.

Youngster Sonam Malik’s rapid rise in the 62kg category, where Sakshi Malik too currently competes, the Rohtak wrestler has seen herself fall behind her junior in the pecking order. 

However, postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 due to the COVID-19 situation has given the 27-year-old a fresh lease of hope.

With the Asian Olympic Qualifiers postponed as well, the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has announced that they will conduct fresh trials to select the Indian representative for the upcoming Games.

“I will try my best to improve further in areas where I had to work, I have got more time,” Sakshi Malik reiterated her ambition to make the most of her chance in an interview with The Week.