Hav­ing been dealt a se­ries of dis­ap­point­ments at Rio, In­dia had yet to win a sin­gle medal un­til Ma­lik took to the stage to win bronze. Even In­dian PM Naren­dra Modi ac­knowl­edged her achieve­ment.

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Fe­male wrestler Sak­shi Ma­lik has de­liv­ered In­dia its first medal of the 2016 Rio Games, send­ing a na­tion into ec­stasy. But her jour­ney to the Olympic podium has not been easy. Af­ter a gritty per­for­mance at the 58kg women’s wrestling cat­e­gory she won bronze, be­com­ing the first In­dian fe­male wrestler and the fourth In­dian woman to win an Olympic medal. “I never thought I would be­come the first woman wrestler from In­dia to bag an Olympic medal in wrestling,” she told news out­let The Hindu. “I hope the re­main­ing wrestlers will also do well.”

Strug­gle to the top

She was born in In­dia’s Haryana state, where women were for some time not al­lowed to take part in wrestling events.

The 23-year-old started train­ing young, hav­ing gained sup­port from her par­ents to pur­sue the sport. Me­dia re­ports say lo­cals ini­tially be­rated her par­ents, telling them that their daugh­ter would be­come un­de­sir­able to po­ten­tial suit­ors. But she went on to earn a sil­ver medal at the 2014 Glas­gow Com­mon­wealth Games and walked away with the bronze at the 2014 In­cheon Asian Games. Thurs­day’s bronze medal, was a “re­sult of 12 years of ded­i­ca­tion”, she said. “I never gave up to the end. In the last round, I had to give my max­i­mum, I had the self be­lief,” she said.

A woman wrestling in one of In­dia’s most con­ser­va­tive states

She comes from the dis­trict of Ro­htak, which gained no­to­ri­ety in 2014, af­ter two sis­ters fought back against a group of men who ac­costed them on a pub­lic bus. The state of Haryana is also known for hav­ing the most se­vere gen­der im­bal­ance in In­dia a sign, cam­paign­ers say, of high lev­els of fe­male foeti­cide. Women’s wrestling re­ally took off in In­dia in the mid-1990s. But it was not un­til 2002 when girls were al­lowed to train with boys in Haryana.

Now all three of In­dia’s fe­male wrestlers at the Olympics, a record for the coun­try in any case, are be­lieved to come from that state. Ish­war Singh Dahiya, who coached Ma­lik, and is among those cred­ited for the suc­cess of women’s wrestling in In­dia has said that women have now “put Ro­htak on the world wrestling map”. “Girls once not wel­come at the Chotu Ram Sta­dium have now be­come its pride,” Mr Dahiya told the Hin­dus­tan

Times in 2015, the year af­ter he re­tired as dis­trict sports of­fi­cer.

‘Dreams into re­al­ity’

Joy has swept In­dian so­cial me­dia in the hours since her win. Hav­ing been dealt a se­ries of dis­ap­point­ments at Rio, In­dia had yet to win a sin­gle medal un­til Ma­lik took to the stage. “In­dian dreams have turned into re­al­ity,” said one user on Twit­ter. “Look at the way Sak­shi res­cued the In­dian tally. She did what broth­ers couldn’t do,” said Yash­want Desh­mukh, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst. “Sak­shi proved women are not weak and in need of pro­tec­tion,” an­other user chipped in. In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi also con­grat­u­lated Ms Ma­lik for her win, call­ing her a “daugh­ter of In­dia”. Her mother told lo­cal me­dia she asked her daugh­ter if she was tired af­ter her win, to which she replied: “No­body feels tired af­ter win­ning a medal for (their) coun­try”.

The ma­noeu­vres that got her medal

The 23-year-old beat Kyr­gyzs­tan’s Aisu­luu Tyny­bekova to clinch the bronze medal. Ms Ma­lik fought back from a 0-5 down to seal the fi­nal 8-5 re­sult in her favour.

Sak­shi Ma­lik won the bronze medal mak­ing her the first In­dian fe­male wrestling Olympic medal­list.

Sak­shi Ma­lik cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the Olympics bronze medal in the women’s 58kg freestyle cat­e­gory.

Sak­shi Ma­lik in ac­tion in Rio de Janeiro.

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