Showing extraordinary fighting spirit, woman wrestler Sakshi Malik ended India's frustrating medal drought with a dramatic bronze-winning effort on day 12 of the Rio Olympic Games.
Sakshi fought five bruising battles in the 58kg category against equally determined opponents in a single day before securing the podium place. She had lost her quarterfinal bout but got a fresh lease of life when her Russian conqueror reached the final, allowing the Indian to compete in the repechage round.
The 23-year-old grappler from Haryana climbed the medal rostrum with a spectacular come-from-behind 8-5 win over Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan after trailing 0-5 in the first period. She jumped on the mat with ear-to-ear smile before being hoisted by her coach Kuldeep Singh with the Indian tri-colour draped around her.
It was the fifth bronze in wrestling for India in its long Olympic history stretching back to 1952 Helsinki Games when Kashaba Jadhav became its first individual medallist. She is also the fourth female Olympic medallist from India, joining the ranks of weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari (2000, Sydney), boxer MC Mary Kom (2012, London) and shuttler Saina Nehwal (2012, London).
Sakshi also became the first female grappler from India to climb the podium in the quadrennial sports spectacle - the other four medals being won by men with two of those claimed by Sushil Kumar in 2008 Beijing and 2012 London.
"Meri 12 saal ki tapasya rang layi (It's the fruit of my persistent hard work in the last 12 years). Geeta didi, my senior had qualified for the first time in London. I never thought I would become the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal in wrestling," Sakshi said with tears of joy in her eyes.
Sakshi’s bronze medal winning feat was like a balm as it came after Vinesh Phogat was forced out of the 48kg competition due to an unfortunate knee injury suffered during her quarterfinal bout against Chinese rival Sun Yanan.
Vinesh had to be stretchered off the arena. The MRI scan confirmed a knee ligament tear. The injury occurred when the Chinese was leading 1-0.
The day for India commenced with the elimination of shuttler Kidambi Srikanth, who went down fighting against defending champion Lin Dan to dash India's medal hopes in men's singles.
Taking the court a day after compatriot P V Sindhu had knocked out top Chinese shuttler Wang Yihan to enter the women's singles semis, Srikanth gave Super Dan a tough time before going down 6-21 21-11 18-21 against the World No. 3.
The 21-year-old Hyderabad shuttler's elimination after his loss to Dan in an hour and four minutes in the quarterfinals has left Sindhu as the lone Indian out of seven entrants in the fray in badminton.
Sindhu is to take on Japan's Nozomi Okuhara on day 13 for a place in the final.