In 2008 and 2012, wrestlers Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt won bronze medals through the repechage route – where losing competitors to the eventual finalists get another chance to battle it out for the bronze medal. Late on Wednesday night, Rohtak-born Haryanvi Indian grappler Sakshi Malik made sure that the country remained unbeaten in repechage – making the most of her lifeline, storming through two rounds of the freestyle 58kg event (she outdid Mongolian wrestler Orkhon Purevdorj 12-3 in the previous round), after losing to eventual Russian silver-medalist Valeria Koblova. Koblova destroyed Malik, ending her chances of a gold and silver medal, which only seems to have spurred the 23-year-old (even Dipa Karmakar is 23) to come from behind twice more. In total, Malik came from behind in four of her bouts in the dying seconds, epitomizing her spirit in what was to be a most physical two days for her.
The match itself was quite a thriller. Aisuluu Tynybekova from Kyrgyztan was up 5-0 over Malik after the first half, but the Indian made it 4-5 with 90 seconds to go, and 5-5 with fifteen seconds to go, almost beating the buzzer with a heroic move five seconds from time. Malik finished 8-5 to complete a remarkable victory after seemingly having her medal dreams crashed earlier the day. This was India’s first medal of the 2016 Rio Olympics – an edition in which controversies regarding the officials traveling and the poor treatment meted out to their athletes have dominated the headlines.
Sakshi became the first Indian woman wrestler ever to win an Olympic medal, the fourth Indian woman ever to win an Olympic medal, and only the fourth Indian wrestler ever to have won a medal. She is also the 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medalist.
This is India’s 25th medal overall in Olympic history.
Up next is P.V. Sindhu’s semifinal bout against Japanese opponent Nozomi Okuhara at 7.30 PM on Thursday evening. Sindhu defeated World no. 2 and 2012 Olympic silver-medalist Wang Yihan in the quarterfinals in straight sets. If she wins, she will face the winner of the match between World no. 1 Carolina Marin and third-ranked reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui.