Sonam Malik upsets Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik at senior nationals

The 19-year-old Haryana wrestler, Sonam Malik, pulled off a fine comeback to beat her much-celebrated opponent for the national title.

By Naveen Peter
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

One of Indian wrestling’s rising talents, Sonam Malik beat 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik 7-5 to win the senior women’s national wrestling championships title on Saturday.

Competing in the 62kg weight category, the 19-year-old Sonam Malik from Haryana showed great character to mount a fine comeback against her senior pro in what was a fast-paced bout at the Holy Light Senior Secondary School in Agra.

“Sonam was ready for the challenge. But Sakshi is an experienced wrestler and therefore we needed a plan,” Sonam’s coach Ajmer Malik was quoted saying by Wrestling TV. “Earlier, Sonam would go for an attack but also leave many openings for her opponent to counter. So we decided that this time, we will attack only when it is time to attack.”

Having lost to Sonam twice in the past, Sakshi Malik -- representing Railways -- looked prepared for the bout and started in whirlwind fashion with a double leg attack followed by a takedown giving her four points in the opening minute.

Though the move took Sonam by surprise, the youngster kept her composure and worked her way back into the bout, scoring her initial points by pushing the opponent out of bounds.

With the lead cut short, Sakshi Malik looked desperate to assert her superiority and was often seen going in with her attacking moves against a defensively solid Sonam.

One such attempt saw Sonam Malik turn the tables on her senior pro and inflict her first takedown of the match to head into the break with a 5-4 lead.

Returning to the mat, while Sakshi Malik continued with her all-out attacking approach, Sonam was measured in her ways, often staying close to her opponent to not allow any space to manoeuvre a move.

With time running out, the Olympic medallist buckled under pressure and lost her footing allowing Sonam Malik to go for another takedown to pocket her third win over Sakshi Malik.

Sonam Malik is all but certain to represent India at the season-opening Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in March and is also a favourite to make the squad for the Asian Olympic qualifiers a month later.

“The win was important for her. It has now given her more confidence ahead of the Tokyo Olympics,” Ajmer Malik said. “She fought like a tigress today. I am so proud of her.”

The 18-year-old Sonam had last upstaged the celebrated Saskhi Malik, 28, at the national trials in February last year, ending the Olympic medallist’s hopes of making it to the qualifiers then.

Meanwhile, Anshu Malik managed gold in the 57kg category, extending her fine run of form from the Individual World Cup where she bagged a silver last month. Minakshi (50kg), Anju (55kg) and Pinki (72kg) were the other gold medallists of the day.

Results in five more weight categories -- 53kg, 59kg, 65kg, 68kg and 76kg -- will be decided on Sunday.