Road to Rio glory: Sakshi Malik shares wrestling journey
When a 12-year-old Sakshi Malik had first taken up wrestling under coach Ishwar Dahiya, her only inspiration was grandfather Subir Malik, who was also a wrestler.
And the Rio 2016 bronze medallist admits that she had no idea of any major international tournaments, including the Olympics, until she started winning at the junior level - silver at 2009 Asian Junior World Championships, a bronze at 2010 World Junior Championships and others.
"I had been playing sports since I was a child but had little idea about the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games," Sakshi Malik said during a session of E-Pathshala, Sports Authority of India’s athlete and coach education programme conducted in association with the Wrestling Federation of India.
"It was after I got into wrestling and started winning medals at a junior level that the interest in these events started going up,” Sakshi added.
Sakshi also said that she was inspired when Indian wrestlers started winning Olympic medals regularly since the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Sakshi Malik: The wrestling star defying stereotypes in India
Sakshi Malik: The wrestling star defying stereotypes in IndiaWith her Olympic bronze medal in Rio 2016, Malik paved the way for a younger generation of female Indian wrestlers to join the sport despite immense societal barriers. See what motivates her on the road to Tokyo 2020.
The life-changing moment
In 2016, Sakshi Malik would enter the elite club of India’s individual women Olympic medallist – featuring Karnam Malleswari, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu – when she defeated Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova to win a bronze medal.
While the image of Sakshi Malik’s coach Kuldeep Malik taking her for a lap of honour around the arena is still fresh in every Indian’ memory, her journey in Rio though wasn’t as smooth.
Sakshi Malik narrates how she went five points down in the first four minutes of the bronze-medal bout before coming back to win it 8-5.
"When I reached that bronze medal match, I didn't want to lose at the final hurdle. My coach kept telling me that you are better than her (opponent),” Sakshi Malik said.
"It was a tough match and only at the very end was I able to win. I can't explain in words what the feeling of winning was, I didn't know whether to laugh or smile or cry."
"My coach explained to me that my life will change after this medal but when I grow old, it is a precious memory that will always remain with me.
“I am very grateful for all the love the country has given me after I won the Olympic bronze," she signed off.