New Delhi, July 30: Rio Olympic 2016 bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik has qualified for the upcoming World Wrestling Championships 2019, in Kazakhstan. She didn't face much challenge in the World Championships trails held in Lucknow on Sunday (July 27) and dominated her opponents as she won two games on technical superiority.
The 26-year-old Rohtak-based wrestler is now aiming to win the World championships and secure the Tokyo Olympic berth as soon as possible so that she's gets more time to prepare, both mentally and physically, for the quadrennial event.
Sakshi bagged the bronze medal at Rio Olympics in 57kg freestyle category, but she's now competing in 62 kg and seems confident about changing the colour of the medal next year in Tokyo.
Mykhel had an exclusive chat with Sakshi about her plans for Olympics and her association with Asics. Here are the excerpts:
MyKhel: How are you preparing for the upcoming World Wrestling Championships in Kazakhstan and later for the Tokyo Olympics?
Sakshi Malik: I will try to give my best at the World Championships and aim to get the Tokyo Olympic berth there itself so that I don't have to think too much about qualification later in the year and that will give me enough time to focus and prepare for the Olympics.
MK: You didn't have a memorable 2018 as you failed to get the desired results in Commonwealth Games as well as in the Asian Games. What did you learn from your failures and how did you improve?
SM: One tends to learn a lot from his/her failures, and disappointments have taught me a lot in the last year. Failures helped introspect the areas of concern and the errors I've committed on the mat which cost me dearly at the big stage. I've lost several close games in the dying seconds so I am working on improving that and get better.
MK: You're associated with Asics which is a global brand and has been associated with top athletes in the world. How will this association help you and other young wrestlers?
SM: I am the second wrestler after Bajrang (Punia) to get associated with Asics and it feels wonderful. We have been using Asics' shoes and sporting gears in the past because they are comfortable and athlete-friendly. Their shoes help us remain injury-free which is very important for any athlete. This association will encourage the young and aspiring wrestlers to perform well and they could also be the brand ambassadors of such a big brand.
MK: Fans have high hopes from You and Vinesh Phogat for Tokyo Olympics, what are your thoughts?
SM: I urge the fans to keep supporting us and keep praying for us and I am sure we won't disappoint you. Not just me and Vinesh, several other talents coming up and they are also looking bright medal prospects.
MK: Has influx of young girls taking wrestling as a career, ever since your Olympic medal, increased?
SM: Yes, I have witnessed a lot of change since then. Girls are showing their interest in wrestling and their parents are encouraging them to take up this sport as a profession. The biggest change, I feel, my Olympic medal has brought is that it has changed the way the parents used to think. They are now allowing their young daughters and sons to choose wrestling as a career. The training facilities are full of aspiring talents and they have been divided into several groups so that they get proper training.
MK: Are you better prepared for the Tokyo Olympics, both physically and mentally?
SM: Of course, my life changed completely after the Rio Olympic bronze. Back then, I didn't know what will happen to me after winning a medal and the recognition I will receive. But now I know what are benefits of finishing the podium at such a big stage for that helps us change the mindset of the people.
MK: Does people's expectation put extra pressure on you?
SM: Yes, the expectation of the people has increased but I don't take it as a pressure. I consider it a motivating factor, I will take as a confidence booster.
MK: Your natural game was attacking but you changed your game and took a defensive approach after Rio Games which affected your game. Are you planning to get back to playing the attacking game?
SM: My natural game was attacking but I took a defensive approach after Rio Olympics but that changed my game as it helped my opponents a lot and consequently, I started losing games by small margins so I have rectified my mistake. But now I am once again back to playing an attacking game.
MK: Is attack the best-suited approach for you?
SM: Yes, that's the best thing that suits my game. An athlete can add variety to his/her game by playing the attacking game because he/she will be in the positive frame of mind. But if a wrestler only focusses on his/her defence then that athlete will be always on the backfoot. So my approach henceforth is going to play all six minutes in full attacking mode.
MK: What is the reason for you being in a better frame of mind?
SM: Family and coaches have been very supportive of me and they've motivated me constantly. Since I've been through a lot of disappointments in the past, they've said 'this is the lowest you can go, so learn from your mistakes and improve' and that has helped me a lot.
MK: Is there a change in the attitude of the federations and corporates towards wrestlers nowadays?
SM: Yes, there is a lot of improvement now. When I started, I remember, we used to get Rs 3000 per month i.e. Rs 100 a day on nutrition but now the athletes are getting much more than that. The federation is ensuring that the wrestlers get proper nutrition. Now even the wrestlers are very conscious about their nutrition. We follow a strict diet regime ahead of the competition so that we are in proper shape.
MK: Sould India agree with IOA's suggestion to boycott the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham to express solidarity with shooting, which has been removed from the roster?
SM: Boycotting such an important event won't be right, instead proper steps must be taken by the IOA and the government to ensure the sport gets back into the roster for that will benefit every athlete