After a medal in Rio, wrestler Sakshi Malik failed to qualify for Tokyo Olympics — What went wrong?
Sakshi Malik became the first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at Olympics in Rio 2016. However, five years down the line, she failed to qualify for Tokyo Olympics.
The Rio Olympics 2016 offered a spectacular moment for India when Sakshi Malik had won the bronze medal to become the first-ever Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal. Sakshi had won a medal when it seemed like there was no hope for India to win.
With a month to for the Tokyo Olympics, Indian will send seven members from its wrestling contingent at Games. However, Sakshi, who had aimed to change the colour of her medal in Tokyo, failed to earn a qualification five years down the line.
At the Rio Olympics, Sakshi had lost 2-9 in the quarter-finals of her category to Russia's Valeriia Koblova in the fifth bout of the day. However, she got a second chance in repechage when Koblova reached the final. Sakshi pulled off a sensational 8-5 victory over Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan in the bronze medal playoff bout that ensued. Initially, the Indian had gone down 0-5, but she managed to produce a brilliant comeback and clinch an Olympic medal.
Despite her impressive show at Rio 2016, Sakshi hasn't been at her best with a series of mediocre performances. At the Commonwealth Games 2018, she went down in the first round but managed to win a bronze via the repechage. The bad form continued at the Asian Games where Sakshi returned empty-handed before suffering a humiliating exit from the 2018 World Championship. The 26-year-old finished 12th at the Sassari City Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Italy and was seventh at the 2019 Yasar Dogu Memorial in Istanbul, Turkey. At the Asian Championship, she clinched a bronze medal. She also succumbed defeat at the World Wrestling Championships in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan. While the Indian contingent produced its best-ever performance with 1 silver and 4 bronze medals, Sakshi's dreams get stalled in the opening round of the women's 62-kg category, as she suffered an upsetting 7-10 defeat to a fiery Nigerian Aminat Adeniyi.
A moment of reckoning came for Sakshi, who has been on the TOPS list since the time it was formed back in 2015, got dropped from the list for the first time ever and she was replaced by Ravi Kumar Dahiya, who clinched the bronze medal at his maiden World Championship outing this year and secured his spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
A look at Sakshi Malik's performance since Rio Olympics 2016:
Asian C'ship 2017 – Silver 60kg
World C'ship 2017 – 14th 60kg
Commonwealth C'ship 2017 – Gold 62kg
Asian C'ship 2018 – Bronze 62kg
Commonwealth Games 2018 – Bronze 62kg
Asian Games 2018 – 5th 62kg
Alexander Medved Prizes 2018 – Silver 62kg
World Championship 2018 – 12th 62kg
Don Kolov – Nicola Detrov 2019 – Silver 62kg
Beat the streets 2019 – Silver 62kg
Asian C'ship 2019 – Bronze 62kg
City of Sassari 2019 – 12th 62kg
Yasar Dogu 2019 – 7th 62kg
Alexander Medved Prizes 2019 – Bronze 62kg
World Championships 2019 – (17th) 62kg
Though Sakshi has a haul of nine medals from 14 tournaments, most of her medals came in smaller meets. Sakshi's recent form is a concern of worry and going by this, it could be further difficult for her to win a place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics squad with the Asian Qualifiers scheduled in March 2020 and World Qualifiers scheduled in May.
The final hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics were pinned down when two-time Cadet World Champion Sonam Malik humbled Rio Olympic bronze medallist during the trials in the 62kg category in February 2020 before the Asian Wrestling Championships.
Sonam and Sakshi fought for the first time in January 2020, and later they met thrice where Sonam had beaten Sakshi each time, including in the final of the National Championships this year. The resounding success makes Sonam the best woman wrestler in the 62kg category, and seeing her fledgling career, it can be easily said Sonam would be one of India's best bets for a medal in women's wrestling when they reach Tokyo, while Sakshi stays out of contention.