India's 12-day wait for an Olympic medal finally ended today when Sakshi Malik won her bronze-medal match in the 58kg wrestling category with a comeback in the final minute to win 8-5. From being a last-minute replacement to the Rio games, Sakshi has become India's first medalist at the Games.
Sakshi Malik had earlier lost to Russia's Valeria Koblova 2-9 in the quarters. However, she got another chance to win a bronze medal after the Russian made it to the final of the event through the repechage rounds. Repechage is the series of rounds that are held between the contestants who lose to the eventual finalists in their way to the final.
In the repechage Round 2, Sakshi won a one-sided contest against Orkhon Purevdorj of Mongolia 12-3. It was an even contest at the end of Period 2 at 2-2 apiece, but Sakshi went for the kill in the second and took down the Mongolian again and again to win 10 points to her opponent's single point to enter the bronze-medal bout.
In the bronze-medal match, she faced Aysuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan.
At the start of the first Period (which consists of 3 minutes), both tried to attack, but it was Aisuluu Tynybekova, who managed to get a double thigh-hold on Sakshi. Luckily, she was not able to complete it, and Sakshi got away.
With 2 minutes to go, Sakshi received a warning for passivity, but no penalty was given. But, a visibly tired Sakshi tried to still hold back, and this time it was a potential penalty. Sakshi had 30 seconds to reverse it with a point of her own, but could not manage it, thus giving Aisuluu her first point.
With 1 minute to go, Aisuluu managed an anklehold and a takedown on Sakshi and received 2 more points. Another takedown ensued, and Aisuluu took 2 more points, and Sakshi was down 0-5 at the half-way mark between the two Periods.
It appeared all but over.
But, Sakshi started out aggressive in the second Period. Trying to capitalize on that, Aisuluu went for an anklehold, but Sakshi was the one who came out on top of the duel in a dominating position. But, Sakshi failed to finish it off, and Aisuluu soon managed to reverse the situation putting Sakshi under her hold. Eventually, the referee separated them from the stand-off, and no points were awarded to both.
It was still 0-5 with 2 minutes to go. And then, Sakshi managed her first takedown on Aisuluu to get 2 points. Without losing her grip, she tried a roll, but Aisuluu managed to get up, only to be taken down by Sakshi for 2 more points. Suddenly, it was just a one-point difference at 4-5!
In the last minute, Sakshi needed to get a point, and she kept attacking, and it finally arrived with just 9 seconds to go - she got it with an out-of-bounds move. 5-5. But, the Kyrgyzstani immediately appealed the decision.
Without banking on the call to come her way, Sakshi managed another takedown in the dying minutes to take the score to 7-5. The eventual appeal also came in favor of the Indian to make it 8-5, and she had won India's first medal in the 2016 Olympics.
It was a dream story for the Indian who was not even in the plans until months ago. Sakshi had been a last-minute replacement to the Rio Olympics after winning the quota in the final qualifying event before Rio at Istanbul. It was a lucky break for Sakshi who was second choice after Geeta Phogat, and only received her entry at Istanbul after Geeta had received a ban for forfeiting a bronze-medal match in the previous qualifier event.