Sakshi: "This medal is for the whole country"

The 23-year-old Haryana girl said that it was the fruit of her ‘’12 years of tapasya’’ and hard work.

Sakshi with her coach, who gave her very good tips, mid-bout.   -  REUTERS

Sakshi Malik ended the medal drought for India in the Rio Olympics. In the first 12 days of action, so many misses by the star athletes had led to a lot of desperation.

The 23-year-old Haryana girl who said that it was the fruit of her ‘’12 years of tapasya’’ and hard work, won the hearts of everyone with her honest words, as she interacted with the media soon after making the whole country happy with a bronze, a precious piece of metal that everyone covets but few come to possess.

"I dedicate this medal to all the people who have supported me all along. My parents, my coaches, my trainers, training partners and everyone who has been part of my journey. This success and medal belongs to them all. It belongs to the whole country", said Sakshi, with admirable clarity.

A strong streak of self-belief was evident in the manner she fought till the end, turning the tables on her opponent in the bout for the bronze medal, in the last nine seconds. For Indian athletes who are often criticised for being slack at the crunch, this was indeed a revelation.

"In real life I am not aggressive. But in wrestling, I am totally aggressive. In a wrestling match, anything can happen, any time. I always believed that I would win somehow. If I lasted six minutes of the bout, I knew I would find my way to victory", said Sakshi.

She accepted that after the knock-out phase earlier in the day, there were a lot of thoughts about "medal or no medal" during the time she waited for the repechage to start.

World championship silver medallist Valeria Koblova Zholobova of Russia had beaten her in the Olympic qualifier in Istanbul. She beat Sakshi once again, but did a good turn by making the final, which reopened the chance for the Indian girl, carrying the dreams of the whole nation.

"I was sure that I would win the first medal for India. I had total faith in my ability and coach sir kept telling me that you are strong, and the medal is yours", recalled Sakshi.

After she trailed 0-5 in the first phase of the bronze contest, the coach told Sakshi to avoid the fingers of her opponent, which in a way locked her away from action. The coach insisted that Sakshi should avoid the fingers and attack from the side. The fairytale finish was possible as Sakshi turned a 0-5 deficit to an 8-5 victory, against Aisuluu Tynybekov of Kyrgyzstan who was distraught with the anticlimactic result that she was forced to face.

"In the last three minutes I had to give my best. You cannot do anything afterwards," said Sakshi, quite happy that she did not hold back anything, at the moment of reckoning.

She was honest when she said that even after receiving the medal, the whole feeling of having won it, was yet to sink in.

"If I had missed the medal, I would have felt the pain hard. But, I have the medal", she said.

Sakshi was grateful to the coach for all the encouragement. "Coach sir kept encouraging me, and said that had I not made the small mistakes, I could have won the bout that I lost," Sakshi recalled.

From the troubled start when people objected to her training with the boys, to winning the acclaim of everyone, Sakshi has indeed come a long way, instilling a lot more confidence in the girls.

"I just want to tell the people, please believe in the girls. We can do anything and everything," said Sakshi.

She also hoped that her Olympic medal would pave the way for a lot more achievements in the sport by the girls.

The Phogat sisters, Geeta, Babita and Vinesh, may have captured the imagination of the Indian public over the years with their collective deeds on the international stage, but Sakshi felt that her Olympic medal would provide a major thrust to the sport in the country.

Sakshi declared that she looked up to former World Champion Sushil Kumar for delivering two Olympic medals, a silver and a bronze in successive Games, that made the sport so popular in India.

Sakshi also revealed that her resolve to win that Olympic medal became stronger after her friend Vinesh Phogat was injured during her quarterfinals, and was crying in pain while being taken away on a stretcher.

"My mind was distracted at what happened to Vinesh. We both wanted to do well. She was capable of winning the medal. I thought that everything came to me and it was my responsibility to win that medal’’, said Sakshi.

For the brave and efficient, even a blade of grass can be a weapon. Sakshi has indeed channelised all the positive vibes in conjuring up that Olympic medal at the Carioca arena, when hope was dying fast in the Indian camp.

(As appeared in sportstar.thehindu.com on August 18, 2016)