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Behind an Olympic Medal: Sakshi Malik's bronze medal at 2016 Rio

In a new series, Behind an Olympic Medal, we take you through wrestler Sakshi Malik's bronze medal finish at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Behind an Olympic Medal: Sakshi Maliks bronze medal at 2016 Rio

Abhijit Nair

Updated: 18 Jun 2021 5:54 AM GMT

The postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics is now less than two months away. Even though the fate of the Games hangs in a balance even now, athletes from across the globe are sweating it out in their respective sessions to be in the best shape possible ahead of the quadrennial event. As the Olympics near with each passing day, we bring to you a new series of articles, 'Behind an Olympic medal', wherein we will take you through the struggles that went behind Olympic medals won by India.

For the very first article of this brand new series, we take you through wrestler Sakshi Malik's bronze medal finish at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The 2016 Rio Games was certainly not a pleasant one for India. After the high of 2012 London Games where the country registered its highest ever medal tally at the Olympics, things came crashing down in Rio with India winning just two medals - One of them being Sakshi Malik's bronze.

Entering Rio de Janeiro, the then 23-year-old Sakshi was not even considered to be a big medal prospect. Instead, at Rio, the eyes of Indian sports fans were fixated on an even younger Vinesh Phogat.

Both, pundits and fans alike, had touted Phogat as the one to look forward to and the one who will help India win its first ever medal in women's wrestling at the Olympics. But, fate had other plans. Unfortunately Phogat was badly injured in the semifinals and was forced to withdraw from the bout. Dreams shattered… not just for a young Vinesh Phogat but also for millions of fans back in India who had their hopes high.

Enter Sakshi Malik; just hours after Phogat's heartbreaking exit. Malik had lost her last bout in the tournament to Koblova Zholobowa in quarterfinals of 58kg, but Russian's entry to the final meant that the Indian got yet another shot to salvage a medal for herself and the country.

In the repechage against Mogolian Orkhon Purevdorj, Malik cruised to a 12-3 win on technical superiority and entered the bronze medal play-off against Kyrgyzstan's Aisullu Tynybekova, giving the entire nation a slight hope.

All the hopes Indian fans had about a medal vanished soon as Malik went 0-5 down just minutes into the match. With the clock ticking fast and the medal slipping away each with passing second, Malik scripted a wonderful come-from-behind 8-5 win to clinch India's first medal at Rio as well as the first ever medal for an Indian woman wrestler at the Olympics!

From being an obscure name in the country, Sakshi Malik rose to immense fame overnight. She has since been awarded with the country's highest sporting honour, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, and the country's fourth highest civilian award – Padma Shri.

Besides, she also bagged three consecutive medals at the Asian Championships – a silver and two bronze in 2017, 2018 and 2019. But, over the last couple of years her performance has dipped and this has resulted in her failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

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