Rio de Janeiro, Aug 18: After ending India's agonising wait for an Olympic medal at the Rio Games with a bronze medal, Indian women wrestler Sakshi Malik said it was the result of her 12 years of persistent hard work. (Who is Sakshi?)
Sakshi today (August 17) scripted history by becoming the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal and only fourth female athlete from the country to climb to the podium at the biggest sporting event. (Reactions from Twitter for 'Supergirl' Sakshi)
"Meri 12 saal ki tapasya rang layi (It's the result of my 12 years' fight for day and night). Geeta didi, my senior had qualified for the first time in London," Sakshi said, with tears of joy in her eyes.
'Never gave up'
"I never thought I would become the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal in wrestling. I hope the remaining wrestlers will also do well," Sakshi said.
The 23-year-old from Haryana, a silver medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and bronze winner at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, earned a dramatic come-from-behind 8-5 win over Kyrgysztan's Aisuluu Tynybekova in the bronze medal play-off here.
"It's in the women's section, we have got the first medal for India," said an ecstatic WFI president Brij Bhushan even as he hugged her in joy.
Sakshi earned the dramatic win after falling behind 0-5 following the first period in the do-or-die bout. The Indian turned the tables on the Kyrgyzstan wrestler in the dying seconds of the bout as Tynybekova was in complete command in most part of the clash.
On her defensive approach that saw her trailing 0-5, Sakshi said: "I never gave up till last, I knew I would win if I lasted till six minutes. In last round, I had to give my maximum, I had the self belief."
Sakshi had lost 2-9 in the quarter-finals to Russia's Valeriia Koblova in the fifth bout of the day before getting a second chance in repechage when her conqueror reached the final.
"It was an agonising two-three hours wait for me. Congratulations to my country mates, I could live up to their expectations," she said.
Like in three of the four other bouts earlier in the day, Sakshi won the crucial bout after coming from behind. In fact, Sakshi's winning move that got her two points initially was challenged by her Kyrgyztan rival and it was reviewed and she was awarded an extra point by the judges much to her rival's chagrin.
Weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari (2000, Sydney), boxer MC Mary Kom (2012, London) and shuttler Saina Nehwal (2012, London) were the only other women players from India to have won a medal in Olympics.
This was India's fifth medal in wrestling where Sushil Kumar has the distinction of winning a silver in London 2012.
Sakshi, who qualfied through second Olympic Games World Qualifying Tournament in Istanbul, battled social biases and sexism to learn wrestling. She took up the sport when she was just nine years old.
'Sushil Kumar is my idol'
Sakshi thanked Olympic medalists Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt for showing wrestling the way.
"They (Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt) are my idols. I would crave to meet them, I would get so excited to have a glimpse of them," she said when asked about her feeling to be
in the list of medal winners with Sushil (bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012) and Yogeshwar (bronze in 2012).
"I would crave to train with them. I can't explain the joy when you all will take my name alongside those greats.
"My idol of course is Sushil Kumar who got a medal from Olympics and showed us the way," said Sakshi, who is also a 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medalist.
It was in the wee hours of today, on the auspicious day of Raksha Bandhan, Sakshi showed the woman power as she ended India's excruciating wait for a medal at the Rio Games.
"This is dedicated to everyone who were with me, starting from my parents, my coaches, training partners. It's all because of their support. Have faith on me, women can bring medals," Sakshi said.
"I knew till last that there's a medal in offering, I kept on trying. I was very confident, and this medal is a result of my struggle all these years," she said.
"A big thank you to Indians for giving me such a huge support."
Thanking her coaches Kuldeep Malik and Kuldeep Singh, she said: "I had two and half hours' rest. My coaches kept on telling me that 'you can win a medal, you're stronger'. The earlier bout I lost was because of some small mistakes. I could have won that bout."
"They backed me well and did not ever let me down. They kept my morale high all the time. You can't say what would happen initially. I tried my best," she said.
"Initially you can't say. it's difficult to say which way the bout will go. I tried to attack in the first round but was unsuccessful. But I kept hope on the last three minutes."
In the middle of her campaign at the Carioca Arena 2, Sakshi received a big jolt to see her friend Vinesh Phogat sustain a knee injury and was stretchered off in tears after forfeiting the quarterfinal bout to Chinese opponent Yanan Sun in the 48kg women's freestyle.
Shakshi said she was shaken to see that scene but she returned stronger.
"She (Vinesh) is a good friend of mine. I was really upset knowing her injury. It diverted my mind. She carried a big medal hope for us and after she retired hurt. I was under tremendous pressure. It made me stronger," said Sakshi.