Sakshi Malik’s 2016: Beating Geeta Phogat & Making History at Rio
“Medal to mera hai,” Sakshi had told The Quint before going for the Rio Olympics. And she kept her word.
From beating the iconic Geeta Phogat to her historic bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, 2016 was the year Sakshi Malik became a star.
The Haryana wrestler, who fights in the same weight category as her idol Geeta, has often struggled with being overshadowed by the celebrated Phogat sisters. But Sakshi’s heroics this year changed all that for good.
However, even as an unknown athlete prior to Rio, she never stopped believing in herself. Just before she left for Rio, the 24-year-old had told The Quint, “Medal toh mera hai (I will win a medal)”. And she was true to her words.
Here’s a look at Sakshi’s 2016 journey.
The Journey to Rio
Sakshi looks up to her senior counterpart Geeta Phogat, trains with her and had to compete with her for a berth in the Rio Games.
Even though she beat her ‘Geeta didi’ in the Olympic trials in India, Sakshi was forced to cede her berth to the more experienced wrestler for the Mongolia qualifiers. But Geeta failed to make the most of the opportunity – and Sakshi had one last chance in Turkey to seal her Rio dream. And so she did, trumping former world champion Lan Zhang of China.
After she had qualified, the Rohtak grappler put in her best. She stayed in a small room at a Sports Authority of India hostel for a year, completely focused and abstaining from all luxuries and distractions.
She also gave up her favourite aloo paranthas and kadhi chawal, opting instead for a strict liquid, carb-free diet prior.
Scripting History at Rio
Sakshi started her Rio campaign by beating Sweden’s Johanna Mattsson 5-4, and subsequently won her second fight of the day against Moldova’s Mariana Cherdivara. The scores were tied 5-5 at the end of regular time. But Sakshi was declared the winner as she had claimed more points in a single move, and she was now in the quarters .
Sakshi lost her quarterfinal bout 2-9 to Russia’s Valeriia Koblova, but eventually got a second lease of life. With Koblova reaching the final of the event, Sakshi was granted another chance to win the bronze by fighting two matches.
And 13 days after the Games had started, the nation woke up to happy news on 18 August. Sakshi had beaten Mongolia’s Orkhon Purevdorj and Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan in the first and second repechage rounds respectively. And with these comeback wins, she had also scripted history, becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to bag an Olympic medal.
Born and brought up in Mokhra, a small village in Haryana’s Rohtak district, Sakshi took up wrestling when she was just twelve. She joined the akhara in Chhotu Ram Stadium and began training under Ishwar Dahiya.
Sakshi’s parents were initially hesitant about letting their daughter enter the male-dominated sport. But she was too determined to be deterred. Her hard work and gradual improvement eventually dispelled her parents’ doubts over whether she should pursue the sport.
And when she went on to scoop up her Olympic medal, they couldn’t contain their joy.
The Nation’s Darling
Sakshi’s landmark win firmly thrust her into the spotlight, making her the nation’s darling overnight.
After her grand welcome at Delhi’s IGI airport early on 24 August, Sakshi was felicitated by various state governments – including Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and, of course, Haryana. She was also awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, India’s highest sporting honour, and became the face of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign in Haryana.
Sakshi Gets Engaged
When The Quint interviewed Sakshi after her return from Rio, she was hesitant to talk about her possible wedding plans. But the news couldn’t be kept under wraps for long. On 16 October, we learnt that the Olympic champ had got engaged to fellow wrestler Satyawart Kadian.
The ceremony, held at Malik’s residence in Rohtak, was attended only by the couple’s families. Later, when we spoke to her at Geeta Phogat’s wedding, Sakshi said that the wedding date was yet to be fixed.
While her mother didn’t want to reveal the colour of her daughter’s wedding lehnga, she did say that Sakshi would continue wrestling after marriage.
And that bit of news may have surely left the nation overjoyed – and hoping for another medal from the Haryana girl at the 2020 Olympic Games.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.