At the Rio Olympics, Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman wrestler to win a medal. But that's all she has in her kitty for a very long time now. The Olympic bronze medallist is unobtrusively slipping but India still hopes high from the wrestler. The only female wrestler from India to win an Olympic medal, Sakshi now hopes to change the colour of her medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year. “The preparations are all in place. I've just returned from training camps in Spain and Italy where there's ample exposure since you find sparring partners with different styles and techniques,” said Sakshi, Firstpost reported.
In 2017, Sakshi bagged gold at the Commonwealth World Championships. She is also a silver medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Since her triumph two years back, Malik has noticeably been away from the podium for a while now. She couldn’t make a mark in CWG either.
“There's been a very visible change in terms of the infrastructure. That has inspired parents to send their daughters for training in wrestling. The numbers have increased so much that the trainers are conducting several sessions with multiple time-slots for different age categories”
Recently, during a press interaction at an event where she was announced as an ASICS athlete, talking about how things have improved for her in the sport after her win at the Olympics, she said, “When I started, we would get Rs 3000 per month with an additional Rs 100 for our nutritional requirements.”
“That felt like a lot to us then but today, I wish there's more done for the junior wrestlers coming up the ranks so that they can purchase a wrestling kit, better shoes and start training on the wrestling mats, moving away from the akhadas,” said Sakshi. She also pointed out that her medal drew attention and even changed their attitude towards the sport. “There's been a very visible change in terms of the infrastructure. That has inspired parents to send their daughters for training in wrestling. The numbers have increased so much that the trainers are conducting several sessions with multiple time-slots for different age categories,” she added.
When asked about international competitions and how Indian wrestlers are ready to face it, she claimed, “Our federation is being approached by foreign federations who are looking to come to India and train with our wrestlers. We are also being invited to international training camps. All of this wasn't happening four years back so evidently, we've come a long way.”
She also attributed her recent losses to a change in mind-set which didn't help her. “I have a naturally attacking posture and have always backed myself to gather points through those tactics, but after winning a medal at the Rio Olympics, the weight of people's expectations got the better of me,” said Sakshi who had lost in the quarterfinals of the Asian Championships to Japan's Yukako Kawai.
Sakshi now is looking forward to a fresh approach at the World Championships, to be held in Kazakhstan this year. She believes it will be a great opportunity to prove her mettle now that just a year to go for the Tokyo Olympics. “I am trying to not clutter my mind with thoughts of losing and go for the kill even if I'm ahead on points,” said Sakshi.
“When you play the entire six minutes in a bout with a single-minded intent to attack and gather points, there's no confusion there and you can play to your strengths.”
Sakshi has also expressed her support for fellow wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia who had criticised the state government on the issue of prize money. “In India, an athlete gets recognised only when he/she wins a medal at the big stage,” said Sakshi who had received multiple cash prizes and a land grant from the Haryana government after winning the bronze medal at Rio. “Now, they are even cutting down on the financial support awarded post the medal and other achievements.”