Salute to girl power
Sakshi Malik was caressing that medal as though it was the first time she held her newborn
Indian women have been excelling in different sports, showcasing their iron will and making their country proud of their achievements
By Rituraj Borkakoty
Published: Mon 14 Aug 2017, 6:00 PM
Last updated: Fri 18 Aug 2017, 1:43 PM
As the country steps into its seventh decade of freedom, the image of a young girl from Haryana who couldn't take her eyes off a bronze medal will linger.
As that dramatic bout finally separated the victor from the vanquished, a country heaved a sigh of relief.
This was an assurance that a country that takes pride in its Mars mission would not return empty-handed from Rio Olympics.
A billion souls were indebted to a 23-year-old girl who refused to cower down despite having the burden of carrying the weight of expectations on her shoulders.
This, after all, is someone who had broken social norms in her native village by becoming a wrestler.
This was supposed to be a male domain in Haryana - a state which is still fighting the menace of female foeticide.
No wonder, then, that Sakshi Malik was caressing that medal as though it was the first time she held her newborn.
Comeback wins become the stuff of legends in sports. India's epoch-making Test victory over Steve Waugh's Australia in Kolkata after having a 274-run first innings deficit to deal with and Barcelona's three goals in last seven minutes against PSG to overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit in Champions League were two of the greatest come-from-behind wins in history.
We don't yet know what was going through Malik's mind when she was trailing 5-0 against Kyrgyzstan's Aisuluu Tynybekova with just 80 seconds remaining for the final whistle in her bronze medal match.
But what we do know is that this young girl possesses an iron will. And her ability to move from a defensive position to an attacking one in the blink of an eye stunned her rival as she claimed an astonishing 8-5 victory with a three-pointer in the dying seconds to win what was India's only 14th individual medal at Olympics.
Malik won just a couple of days after gymnast Dipa Karmakar attempted the Produnova - a high-risk vault that could cause career-threatening neck injury and even death - hoping to earn India a bronze.
In the end, Karmakar's heroics couldn't help her find a place on the podium in what was the most heartbreaking fourth-place finish by an Indian in Olympics since Milkha Singh's in Rome 1960.
"Sorry to 1.3 billion peoples I can't make it possible. But tried hard to do so. If possible forgive me!" Karmakar tweeted after finishing fourth in an event won by American superstar Simone Biles.
She didn't need to apologise to anybody. This is a girl who came from India's remote north east region where asking for decent facilities for an aspiring Olympian is akin to seeing a flying dove in a war-torn state.
Despite all the epic obstacles, Karmakar had written her name in history books by becoming the first Indian female gymnast to qualify for Olympics. And watching her deliver a near-flawless performance against world-class gymnasts from Russia, Romania and the U.S. was just a surreal experience.
"It's not about winning medals," tweeted revered Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. "It's about breaking through all stereotypes and proving you are there with the best. You inspire us all."
Even Biles was moved. "What she did for her sport was history breaking. So I know back home she inspired a lot of other little kids to be just like her which means a lot," said Biles whose four gold medals in Rio also earned her a ticket to White House where she met Barack Obama.
The only African American president in U.S. history may have never heard of Pusarla V. Sindhu. But when the Indian badminton player gave Carolina Marin, the world number one, a run for her money in that compelling women's singles final in Rio, she probably had more people watching her on TV than Obama - a man famous for his oratory skills - ever had.
For the record, Sindhu is the first Indian female Olympic silver medallist. But what can never be found in any record book is her indomitable spirit, the proof of which we saw in Rio where she stunned second seed and former world champion Wang Yihan of China in the quarters.
With that unforgettable run to the final, Sindhu emerged from the shadow of Saina Nehwal - the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist who became only the second Indian to attain the world number one ranking in 2015.
The legendary Prakash Padukone was the first Indian to get to the top of the world rankings.
But the reason behind the recent emergence of India as a force in world badminton is Pullela Gopichand.
The 2001 All England Badminton champion mortgaged his own house to launch his dream project- the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy - in 2008.
Now it's from this academy that champions like Nehwal and Sindhu have emerged. And India can also expect a lot from Prannoy Kumar and Srikanth Kidambi, the two other bright Gopichand students, at the next world championships and Olympics.
Talking of coaches, Indian football has a lot to thank Stephen Constantine for. It was after the Englishman returned as national coach that the team broke into the top 100 of Fifa ranking.
But the star-studded cricket team chose to part ways with their coach - Anil Kumble - despite enjoying phenomenal success at home.
Ravi Shastri returned as India coach, but it was the hero's welcome the Indian women's cricket team received upon their return from England that warmed hearts.
Theirs was an astonishing run to the World Cup final in England and Harmanpreet Kaur's magical 171 off 115 balls against Australia in the semifinal has the potential to be the game changer for women's cricket.