Tribune News Service
New Delhi, July 24
“I cannot explain in words how happy I am today,” Saikhom Mirabai Chanu said on the phone from Tokyo, soon after winning India’s first medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Mira, the little powerhouse, had just walked out after giving her sample to the dope collection officers, and was flooded with calls from India after completing her much-anticipated redemption.
Five years back, then 21, Mirabai flew to the Rio Olympics with a swagger. Her form meant she was going to fight for a podium finish. However, she failed to a single lift in the Clean & Jerk discipline and returned empty-handed.
Devastated, the Manipuri shut herself out from the outside world. Coach Vijay Sharma and other staff had to lean on her family to get her back to training.
Happiness came a year later when she lifted a total of 194kg to become the world champion in the 48kg class. However, the wounds from Rio had never really healed. And despite a few roadblocks — a shoulder injury in 2018 that forced her out of the Asian Games — Mirabai was focussed on only one thing: A medal in Tokyo.
Two visits to a clinic in St Louis in the USA in the last 10 months, to seek assistance from Dr Aaron Horschig, a famed physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach, fixed her lingering shoulder problems.
Redemption for me, my family: Coach Sharma
Mirabai Chanu’s silver brought redemption to her as well as her coach Vijay Sharma, who has been a constant in her life. Sharma has been staying in the national camps and even accompanied Mirabai during her rehabilitation stints to the USA. He even refused to visit his family to celebrate Holi and Diwali in order to be able to remain in the thick of training. “This medal is the biggest achievement of my life. My family has sacrificed a lot for this medal as I have been always away even on Holi and Diwali,” Sharma said.
“How could I go back when other trainees were asked to stay in the national camps? When Mirabai won, my family were the first ones to call and tell me that the sacrifice was worth it. It was very satisfying,” Sharma added.
Indian Weightlifting Federation secretary general Sahdev Yadav, who was very bullish about Mirabai’s chances, said the medal will change the sport, much like Karnam Malleswari’s bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics did. “Just wait for two years. We will really know the impact in two years. This is a very expensive sport because of costly equipment and it is mostly pursued by trainees who come from a humble background,” Yadav said. “This will truly change the sport in this country.”
“This five-year wait (to redeem myself) was too long,” said Mirabai, trying to catch her breath. “The only thing that kept me going was to have confidence in myself and to keep working hard, to be true to the training regimen. This is the only reason I was able to win the medal today.”
‘I could have pushed harder’
Probed on her conservative approach during the Snatch routine, where she started with 84kg when she was comfortably lifting 90kg during training, she said: “I got my periods last night and it affected me. That is why coach (Vijay Sharma) made me start at 84.”
“I tried to clear 89kg but I failed. Had I cleared that weight, I could have run Hou Zhihui (gold winner) a lot closer in Clean & Jerk. I would not be seven kilos apart. But I am happy to take silver,” she added.
After Hou lifted 94kg in Snatch, Mirabai knew that a 7kg deficit would not be possible to be erased in Clean & Jerk, yet she wanted to go for the Olympics record in Clean & Jerk.
Both Mirabai and Zhou the Olympics record with their second lifts — the Chinese did 114kg, followed by 115kg by Mirabai. Hou then raised the bar to 116kg in her third and final lift, a hurdle Mirabai couldn’t cross after failing to lift 117kg. Incidentally, Mirabai holds the Clean & Jerk world record of 119kg.
Hou’s total of 210kg (94kg in Snatch +117 in Clean & Jerk) is a new Olympics record, while Mirabai finished with a total of 202kg (87kg+115kg). Indonesia’s Windy Cantika Aisah won the bronze medal.
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