A long-time fan of the legendary Japanese wrestler, Sakshi Malik was thrilled to share the stage with her idol at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
For Indian wrestler Sakshi Malik, standing on the 2016 Rio Olympics podium with the bronze medal around her neck marked the realisation of more than a single dream.
The Haryana grappler created history at Rio, on this day four years ago, by becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal after clinching bronze in the 58kg freestyle category.
While the feat was a watershed moment for both India and Sakshi Malik, her time on the podium also saw her live out a more personal ambition – sharing the stage with Kaori Icho, the Japanese wrestler who won the gold at Rio.
“That was a surreal moment for me. To think that I would share the podium with Kaori Icho – someone I used to idolise for so long,” Sakshi Malik told the Olympic Channel during an exclusive chat.
Icho is considered one of the modern-day greats in women’s wrestling, with an impeccable record. The 36-year-old is a 10-time world champion and has won a staggering four Olympic golds since 2004.
She is the only woman in an elite club of athletes, featuring legends like sailors Paul Elvstrom and Ben Ainslie, swimmer Michael Phelps, track and field athlete Carl Lewis (in long jump) and discus thrower Al Oerter, to have won individual gold medals at four consecutive Summer Olympic Games in any sport.
The Japanese wrestler also holds an unprecedented 13-year-long unbeaten streak, stretching from 2003 to early 2016.
Sakshi, nine years younger to Icho, admits that she had, for long, been a huge fan of the Japanese grappler.
“An athlete works hard to live this moment, to be on the Olympic podium and live the dream. I used to get excited and star-struck every time I saw Icho,” she revealed.
The Indian wrestler even remembers going out looking for Icho during a World Championships event and soaking in as much as she could from the Japanese ace.
“I followed her closely – what she was doing, what she was drinking. I even used to ignore my own practice and see her train.
“But on that day, I was sharing the podium with her,” Sakshi noted.
Sakshi Malik was speaking during a session with the Olympic Channel on the occasion of her four-year anniversary or her Rio triumph. You can watch the full interview here.
She also features as part of a special Originals series, Shakti: India's Super Women.