Star wrestler Sakshi Malik brought an end to India’s long wait for a medal at the ongoing Rio Olympics, clinching bronze in the Women’s Freestyle 58kg category even as the Indian challenge in other disciplines continue to falter.
The 23-year-old from Rohtak overturned a 0-5 deficit in a hectic second round to script an 8-5 victory over Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan in the bronze medal bout at the Carioca Arena 2 here on Wednesday.
It was a rousing display of fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude from the Indian.
Aisuluu was clearly the superior wrestler in the totally one-sided opening round, displaying impressive strength and technique to take five points and open up a formidable lead.
But Sakshi — who has previously shown a knack of staging strong comebacks — was a totally transformed grappler in the second round, taking eight consecutive points to send the sizable number of Indian fans in the stands into wild delirium.
Sakshi, who had also finished on the podium at the 2015 Asian Championships, created history by becoming the first Indian female wrestler to clinch an Olympic medal.
Kaori Icho of Japan won the gold medal in the category while Russia’s Valeria Koblova — who had defeated Sakshi in the quarter-finals — took the silver.
Eight-time African champion Marwa Amri of Tunisia took home the other bronze medal in the category.
Icho also created history by becoming the first-ever wrestler to win four Olympic titles. She is also the first female in any sport to win gold at four Olympics in an individual event.
Earlier, Sakshi had crashed out of contention for the gold medal after a one-sided 2-9 loss to Valeria in the quarter-finals.
Sakshi, who trailed 0-1 after the first period, made a comeback in the initial minutes of the second period to go 2-1 up.
She, however, failed to maintain the lead as the Russian overpowered her with some incredible moves to take an unassailable 9-2 lead in the dying minutes.
But with Valeria later making it to the final, Sakshi qualified for the repechage round for a shot at the bronze medal.
She started her bid for the bronze in superb fashion by defeating Orkhon Purevdorj of Mongolia 12-3 in the Repechage Round 2 to move within striking distance of a medal.
Sakshi’s medal capped another day of heartbreaks for India including an unfortunate injury to Vinesh in the women’s 48kg Freestyle category that forced her out of the competition.
Vinesh had sustained what seemed to be a serious knee injury during her bout against Sun Yanan of China in the quarter-finals.
The Haryana grappler, one of India’s best bets for a medal, had received a bye in the opening round. She then started her campaign on a rousing note with a dominant 11-0 thrashing of Alina Emilia of Romania in the pre-quarterfinals.
The 21-year-old was leading 1-0 against the Chinese grappler at the time of her injury.
The match was immediately stopped to allow medical attention to Vinesh. After the Indian physio declared that Vinesh will not be able to continue, Sun, who was leading 2-1, was declared the winner by injury.
Vinesh, who got her injured knee wrapped and put in a brace, was taken away on a stretcher. She was then shifted to the Athletes Village where a clinic has all the facilities for medical test. However, she had to wait about an hour for the MRI, since the machines were busy with other athletes.
Later, doctors said Vinesh’s injury was a “ligament tear” and no fracture was seen.
“She will recover from the injury in about two weeks, but for her to start wrestling will take about six weeks at least,” the Chief Medical Officer of the Indian contingent in Rio, Pawandeep Singh Kohli told IANS.
The doctor said she sustained the injury when her opponent in the wrestling match caught her foot and turned it sharply, putting pressure on the knee. “It’s an agonising pain when a ligament tears,” he said. A brace has been put on her leg. She will be examined after two weeks and then advise given on future course of treatment.
The other events on Wednesday witnessed a by now familiar pattern of Indians producing brave efforts only to fizzle out in their respective disciplines.
The day started with Srikanth going down after a valiant fight to two-time defending champion Lin Dan of China in the quarter-finals of the men’s singles event of the badminton competition.
Five-time world champion Dan edged out World No.11 Srikanth 21-6, 11-21, 21-18.
With this win, the 32-year-old Chinese legend took a 3-1 head-to-head lead against the 23-year-old Indian shuttler.
In the semi-finals, Dan will face his long-time rival and Malaysian veteran Lee Chong Wei, who crushed Chinese Taipei’s Tou Tien Chen in a dominating 21-9, 21-15 victory.
Wednesday also witnessed Tintu Luka finishing sixth in her women’s 800 metre heats despite clocking her season’s best timing.
In track and field, Tintu was the lone Indian athlete in action on Wednesday.
She started off well but her strategy backfired to finish with a timing of 2:00.58 minutes in Heat 3. Tintu finished overall 29th in the qualification round.
The qualification round was topped by Canada’s Melissa Bishop followed by Marina Arzamasova of Belarus and Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia at the second and third spots respectively.
In the women’s golf event, India’s Aditi Ashok carded an impressive three-under 68 to finish tied seventh after the opening round.
The 18-year-old got off to a flying start after getting a birdie on the par-four second hole before getting two more birdies on the par-five 10th and par-three 14th holes to get a 68 in a flawless round.
The Bengaluru golfer shared the spot with Lexi Thomson of the United States, Britain’s Charley Hull and the Spaniard Azahara Munoz.
Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand set the pace with a six-under 65 as she enjoyed a one-stroke lead at the top over the South Korean duo of Inbee Park and Seiyoung Kim.
It was an eventful round for Ariya, who got an eagle on the par-five fifth, alongside seven birdies against a double bogey on the par-three fourth and a bogey on the par-four 11th.