New Delhi: Indian female wrestler Sakshi Malik has given India its first medal of the Olympic 2016 Rio Games on Wednesday. After a gritty performance at the 58kg women’s wrestling category she won bronze, becoming the first Indian female wrestler and the fourth Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. Twenty three-year-old Malik defeated Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova in the 58-kilogram freestyle in a thrilling bout, making a comeback in the final seconds to win 8-5.

India has been participating in the Olympics since the beginning of the 20th century, but has won just 26 medals, despite its more than 1.2 billion population. Sakshi’s victory brought cheers to the Indian contingent that had endured agonising Olympic tour without a medal. It was a convincing performance by the Indian as she took the early lead and kept the Mongolian under pressure with smart moves. There was a brief moment early in the first period where Sakshi lost balance and allowed her opponent to make most of it, but apart from that she was in complete control of proceedings.

“Meri 12 saal ki tapasya rang layi (It’s the fruit of my persistent hard work in the last 12 years). Geeta didi, my senior had qualified for the first time in London. I never thought I would become the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal in wrestling,” Sakshi said with tears of joy in her eyes.

She is the first Indian female wrestler to win an Olympic medal. Born in northern conservative Haryana state, adjoining New Delhi, where women were only recently allowed to wrestle, Malik is India’s fourth female athlete to climb the Olympic victory podium.

India had sent its largest ever contingent of some 118 athletes to Rio, but has little to show for it. Top columnist Shoba De summed up national sentiment, declaring earlier this week that the “goal of (Olympic) team India is to go to Rio, take selfies and return home empty handed. What a waste of money and opportunity”. Meanwhile, India’s remaining hopes for a medal are badminton player P V Sindhu, scheduled to play the women’s semifinals later on Thursday, and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, a London Olympics bronze medalist, whose bout is on the last day of the Games.