Sakshi Malik got the better of Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan in the 58kg freestyle bronze medal play-off to earn India its first medal at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday night.
The Indian wrestler, who stormed into the bronze medal play-off match with a dominating 12-3 victory over Purevdorjiin Orkhon of Mongolia in her Repechage bout earlier in the day, fought back from 0-5 down in the first round to emerge triumphant.
Malik scored four straight points in the second round to reduce the deficit to 4-5 and then with seconds ticking away on the clock drew abreast 5-5 before sealing the contest 8-5 and ending the country's agonizing wait for a medal on Day 12 of the Games.
Tynybekova asked for referral, but the decision stayed in favour of the Indian.
The 23-year-old from Rohtak is only the fourth woman athlete from India to win an Olympic medal.
Weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari (Sydney 2000), boxer M C Mary Kom (London 2012) and shuttler Saina Nehwal (London 2012) are the others.
The play-off was a thriller all the way. Tynybekova went on the offensive from the start and grabbed Sakshi's leg to score two points before adding one more for the Indian's passivity.
She repeated her move and successfully bagged two more points to lead 5-0 at the break.
But just when things appeared bleak, Sakshi scored her first points in the second period by throwing her opponent down and out of the mat.
She then scored two more with a similar move to reduce the margin to 4-5.
After levelling the score at 5, the Indian pinned down the Kyrgyzstan wrestler in the dying moments of the match to score three and seal the contest 8-5.
Earlier, in the Repechage bout, Malik gave Orkhon no chance whatsoever, bagging as many as 10 points in the second period after the scores were tied 2-2 at the break.
She put up a dominating performance, pinning down her opponent from time to time, besides flipping her over to gain valuable points.
The Mongolian girl, in contrast, could earn just one point in the second period before going down tamely.
Malik got a shot at the bronze medal despite losing in the quarter-finals as Valeriia Koblova, the Russian girl who had beaten her in the last eight round, made it to the final of the 58kg category.
Since Sakshi had reached the quarter-finals in the category, she had to fight only one repechage round as compared to two opponents for the other girls she beat in the earlier two rounds – pre-quarters and qualification.
Koblova had beaten Luisa Niemesch of Germany in the qualification round before defeating Mongolia’s Orkhon in the pre-quarter-finals.
Sakshi had to get the better of the Mongolian girl in the Repechage Round 2 and she did to advance to the bronze medal play-off.
Earlier, Sakshi went down in the quarter-finals 2-9 to Koblova. Having conceded one point in the first period of her quarter-final fight because of passivity, Sakshi did well to earn two points in the second period after taking-down the Russian girl.
But Koblova hit back almost immediately to pocket four points and then gained another two to open up a 7-2 lead.
The Russian then closed the door on Sakshi by bagging another two points to win the bout and make the semi-finals.
In the first two rounds, Sakshi rallied to register impressive victories.
Making a strong comeback from a 0-4 down, she defeated Sweden’s Malin Johanna Mattsson 5-4 in the qualification round.
She was down 0-4 after the first period but quickly made amends in the second period. Sakshi managed to pull two points back before pushing her rival out of the mat to grab another point.
With just 10 seconds remaining, Sakshi desperately needed one more point to win and she held her nerve, taking down the Swedish girl in those dying moments to post a narrow victory.
In the pre-quarters, she once again eked out a narrow 5-5 win over Mariana Cherdivara Esanu of the Republic of Moldova.
In the opening period of the pre-quarter-final bout, Sakshi got 30 seconds to earn points but failed and that gave Cherdivara a point. The girl from Moldova then put Sakshi down on the mat to gain another two points and lead 3-0 at the break.
In the second period, the Indian failed to take advantage of the 30 seconds she got and handed Cherdivara another point.
Sakshi came back strongly to post a double take down, which earned her four crucial points at one go and helped her surge ahead 5-3.
Although Cherdivara, with her own take-down, gained two points to level the scores at 5-5 with just 19 seconds left on the clock, the Indian was declared winner on bigger points gain.