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Friday, September 17, 2021

Mirabai Chanu: Accidental lifter to Olympic medallist at Tokyo 2021

It’s been an inspirational journey for the diminutive Manipuri athlete Mirabal Chanu, India’s ace weightlifter and world number three.

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

When weightlifter Mirabai Chanu arrived for competition at the Tokyo Olympics only days ago, she sported Olympic-design ear rings.

When she flew back home to India not soon after, she had an Olympic medal round her neck.

India’s ace lifter and world number three, the 26-year-old won silver in the 49 kg category, lifting a total of 202 kg (87 kg in snatch and 115 kg in clean and jerk).

Hou Zhihui of China took the gold, setting a new Olympic record of 210kg. Indonesia’s Windy Cantika Aisah took bronze with a total lift of 194 kg.

AT A GLANCE

  • India’s ace lifter and world number three, Mirabai Chanu lifted a total of 202 kg (87 kg snatch and 115 kg clean and jerk) to win silver at the Tokyo Olympics
  • The 26-year-old athlete from Manipur and Indian Railways employee trained extensively in the US
  • The manner in which Mirabai picked herself up from a disastrous 2016 Rio Olympics is nothing short of inspirational.

Miarbai Chanu welcomed home
Mirabai Chanu with Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and former Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju. Source: IANS

The diminutive Manipuri girl flew back home to India on 26 July. She was greeted by Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and former sports minister Kiren Rijiju in the national capital, and a whole host of accolades including an award of Rs 2 crore from her employer Indian Railways.

Mirabai became the second medallist from India in weightlifting, bettering Karnam Malleswari’s bronze in the 69 kg category at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Pride of the family

“The silver medal is like a gold for all of us,” Chanu’s brother Binod Meitei told IANS over phone from Manipur.

He revealed that she had called home just before the event, and soon after winning.

Chanu belongs to a low-income family comprising eight members, most of whom are into farm work, in the Nongpok Kakching village in Imphal East district.

Saikhom Kriti Meitei, Chanu’s father, said there were many tears as they saw her triumphant performance live on television.  Relatives, friends and well-wishers had gathered at their small home to witness Chanu script history in Tokyo, the proud father said.

With her medal-winning performance in Tokyo, Chanu has laid to rest the horrors of 2016 Rio Olympics, when she failed in two out of three lifts in snatch and was unable to register a valid lift in clean and jerk.

The manner in which she picked herself up from that disaster, to secure this latest win, is nothing short of inspirational.

WATCH ALSO: The official Team India cheer song at the Tokyo Olympics

Weightlifet Mirabai Chanu with her silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics
A dream fulfilled: Mirabai Chanu. Source: IANS

Early beginnings

Mirabai’s entry into weightlifting was accidental. She was 12 when she went to the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal to enrol for archery.

The archery centre was closed, and Mirabai stepped into the neighbouring weightlifting arena to enquire. The weights and weightlifting apparatus attracted her attention immediately, and she was hooked.

As she had built her strength lugging firewood up and down the hills, weightlifting came easily to Mirabai.

For the next few years, she would travel nearly 20 km daily from her home in Mongkok Kakching village to the state capital Imphal for training.

She moved to Delhi once she made a mark at the national level.

Mirabai’s weightlifting journey

On realising that she had won the silver, Mirabai broke down and hugged her coach.

The disappointment at the 2016 Rio Olympics could not have been far in her mind.

The impact then was so hard that Mirabai had to take the help of a sports psychologist to work through it all.

Injuries, especially a mysterious pain in the lower back, came in her way too. Her training in St Louis, USA led to finding ways of improving fitness and snatch technique, her bugbear for a long time.

Months later, Chanu was back, taking gold at the 2017 World Championships, and again at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. The 2020(21) Olympics was by then clearly in sight.

In April this year, Mira set a new world at the Asian Championships in Tashkent in clean and jerk by lifting 119 kg.

Five years from Rio, toughened up mentally and richer in experience, Mirabai completed the turnaround at Tokyo by becoming the second Indian woman and fifth individual overall to win a silver medal at the Olympics.

But it is Rio that Mirabai always acknowledges as the impetus in her journey. She said after her Tokyo win, “My Olympic silver is because of Rio. It took lots of hard work in reaching here.”

Her coach Vijay Sharma summed up her schedule in the past five years, “Khaana, sona aur training ke alawa koi doosra kaam nahi kiya” (Besides eating, sleeping and training, she did nothing else).

To validate Sharma’s point, Mirabai revealed that she had visited family in Manipur for only 5 days in five years, and was on a very strict diet throughout.

“The sacrifice has been a lot,” she said simply. “I knew I had to win a medal.”

She also expressed her gratitude to her coach, support staff, and Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS).

“Lots of support came from TOPS. Many changes are happening now – what we want, we get. I got my medal due to lots of support.”

Asked about what she planned to do on returning home, a smiling Mirabai said, “I will eat the food cooked by my mother. Mum is very happy. She couldn’t eat anything on the day of the competition!  I also want to meet family and friends. The whole village is happy.”

From IANS reports

READ ALSO: Rajeev Balakrishnan, former Indian Olympian, now an Aussie athletics coach


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