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Verve People
June 02, 2017

Winners’ Circle: Sakshi Malik

Text by Huzan Tata. Illustrations by Pratap Chalke

For winning a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and, for being the youngest — and only — Indian woman to bag one in wrestling

From being laughed at as a child who made the akhara her home to winning praise from all those around her, this feisty girl has sure wrestled her way to the top. And turning a losing bout into a bronze medal at the last Olympics was only one highlight in Sakshi Malik’s journey. The newly married wrestler is already looking forward to a long career in the ring, hoping her victories inspire more women to make their way to the sporting arena.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a sportsperson. My grandfather Badhlu Ram was a wrestler, and the passion with which he used to narrate stories of wrestling and dangals got me interested in the sport. I was 12 when I started to train, and I believe that it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I was subject to a lot of taunts as I made my way to practice. But I believed in myself and trained relentlessly, and today I am proud to have made my mark.

My first big win got me A bronze medal at the Junior World Championships in Budapest in 2010. Though there have been many memorable wins after that, the first one will always hold a special place in my heart.

Every time I look at the Olympic medal, I realise that it has been worth all the pain and effort. It has been a long and difficult road, and there’s still a long way to cover. I am one among you, and if I could do it, so can you.

The day I won, it took me six hours to get from the stadium to the village — which usually takes 15 minutes. Everyone wanted to congratulate and talk to me. I was overwhelmed at seeing the number of people who had come to receive me at the airport. That was when I knew I had achieved something big for
my country.

The most important change since my win has been in the mindsets of people who downplayed the power of women. It just reiterates the fact that women can be anything and do anything. Life has completely changed — people know me, click selfies, invite me to prestigious occasions and recognise my efforts as a female wrestler. I also had to get used to seeing my face on newspapers, television and hoardings on a regular basis — not that I am complaining at all!

Wrestling has taught me the values of hard work and never giving up. There are absolutely no shortcuts in sports or in life. You need to stay on till the very last moment. I was behind Aisuluu Tynybekova for the majority of the bout, but was determined not to quit. In the end that was the only factor that made me get the better of her — fighting when it mattered the most.

Japanese wrestlers are my favourite; it is tough not to admire them even as competitors. Their skill and discipline make them so inspirational. Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt are my role models. I have had the privilege to interact with them and improve my wrestling through their guidance.

The biggest advantage of marrying a fellow wrestler is the understanding we have between us. The fact that we come from the same profession helps in keeping each other motivated. It’s like having a coach by your side for life, who will guide you through your wins and, more importantly, your losses.

My next goal is winning the gold medal in Tokyo in 2020. I also want to give back by opening an academy to train Olympic-level wrestlers. I was fortunate enough to have been able to train without any hiccups, and I want to provide the same for upcoming wrestlers.

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