Gold, silver, bronze – it mattered little, because Sakshi Malik’s bout was a reward for persistence and wrestling finesse. On Wednesday Malik prevailed against Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan 8-5 in the women's wrestling 58 kg bronze medal match.

“Women are not encouraged much to do sports,” said a both joyful and tearful Malik after her decisive bout in the bowls of Rio’s Carioca 2 Arena to a throng of Indian journalists. “I have shown that women should be encouraged.”

Together with Dipa Karmakar, the Produnova queen from Tripura, Malik has delighted in Rio with brilliant outings amid the tepid and gloomy procession of the Indian contingent, punctuated by insipid performances, near-misses and contentious sports officials. At least, at the wrestling arena, Malik escaped "Panauti" Goel’s overzealous and offending selfie spree.

Fighting patriarchal odds

Malik stems from Mokra, a small village in the state of Madhya Pradesh. She played kabaddi, but at a young age her mother Sudesh Malik took her to the wrestling academy in Rohtak. There she trained, often with boys, facing prejudice and sexism.

It’s the emblematic tale of aspiring female athletes in India, where conservative notions of femininity and the traditional role of women in society are so at odds with sporting development and progress for female athletes. “It’s the result of my 12 years’ fight, day and night,” said Malik. “Geeta didi, my senior, had qualified for the first time in London.”

“It’s in the women’s section, we have got the first medal for India,” said Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan, who delighted in the result and hugged Malik.

A thrilling contest

In a very tense and thrilling contest, Malik proved to be a comeback queen, an elongated theme in her bouts in Rio. She had lost 2-9 in the quarter-finals to Russia's Valeriia Koblova in the fifth bout of the day, but in the repechage she outclassed Mongolian wrestler Orkhon in the Rd 2 contest 12-3 to advance to the bronze medal match.

Was Malik nervous in the opening stages of the medal bout? She was definitely not composed. Tynybekova’s leg-grab put her in the lead. The Kyrgyzsian repeated the move. Malik trailed 0-5. The Indian wrestler did attack but barely found a way past her opponents. At the break, her coach told her to attack more from the outside. Malik turned doubt into confidence and then belief.

“I was just thinking that 'I will do it’,” explained Malik. “However I can, whichever way I can, I only would pin her because I somewhere knew that if I just stayed in the fight till the end of the six minutes, I would win. It was the last round, I had to give my maximum but from inside I somehow knew I could pull it off...I could win.”

In the second period of the bout, Malik bounced back. Her strength is the double leg attack, a mainstream wrestling move whereby the wrestler targets the legs of the opponents for a takedown. Indeed, Malik took her opponent down and out of the mat.

A repeat move reduced to deficit to a single point. The momentum had swung decisively in Malik's favour. The Indian displayed more confidence and self-assurance. Tynybekova had completely controlled and dominated the bout, but no more. Malik turned Tynybekova over a few times.

The final move

In the waning moments of the encounter, Malik pinned down her opponent again. First, she was in disbelief, and then the magnitude of her achievement sipped through. A video referral of Tynybekova to no avail, Malik draped an Indian flag around her body and kissed the mat.

At 6.50 pm Rio time, India’s new hero stepped onto the podium to receive her bronze medal, a dramatic moment for India at these Olympic Games. Malik found inspiration in that other giant of Indian wrestling, Yogeshwar Dutt. Today, she can serve as an inspiration to others.

Sakshi Malik is a comeback queen, a role model and, now, a bronze medallist.
An older clip of Sakshi Malik on the wrestling mat