Sakshi Malik’s struggles were nowhere to be seen as a fearless and aggressive Rio Olympics bronze medallist grabbed her first international gold medal in almost five years at the UWW Ranking Series event in Almaty on Friday.
India’s Mansi and Divya Kakran too earned top of the podium finishes.
But the day belonged to Sakshi, who has been struggling till the recent CWG trials. She was consistently losing to young Sonam Malik in the 62kg category and even missed qualification for the Tokyo Games but looked completely transformed on Friday as she fought her bouts with tremendous confidence.
She began with a win by technical superiority against Kazakhstan’s Irina Kuznetsova and followed that up with another big 9-3 win over Uzbekistan’s Rushana Abdirasulova.
As Mongolia’s Tserenchimed Sukhee forfeited her semifinal, Sakshi entered the final, where she pinned Kuznetsova while leading 7-4, beating the home wrestler for a second time in the day.
Sakshi stood out with her double leg attacks and agility, hardly giving breathing pace to her opponents. Even when her rival won a challenge to take 5-3 lead, Sakshi was not perturbed and won in an emphatic fashion.
The last time she won a gold was in 2017 Commonwealth Championship even as she won two bronze medals at the Asian Championships in 2020 and 2022.
Also winning the gold was Mansi (57kg), who won her final bout 3-0 against Kazakshtan’s Emma Tissina, who hardly made a move. Mansi got push out points as mostly the two wresters were involved in standing wrestling.
Divya won two of her bouts by ‘fall’ — against Mongolia’s Delgermaa Enkhsaikhan and Kazakhstan’s Albina Kairgeldinova — but lost the final bout 10-14 to Mongolia’s Bolortungalag Zorigt in the four-wrestler 68kg category.
Zorigt also finished with two wins and a defeat (against Delgermaa) but since Divya had more convincing results, she was declared winner.
India now have won four medals with Greco Roman wrestler Neeraj winning a bronze in 63kg category on Thursday.