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Mirabai Chanu Is the Midas Of The Indian Weightlifting Scene!

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu might be 28 years old, but her weightlifting skills have made her a household name - an inspiration for the ones to come.

Mirabai Chanu was a name that made the rounds for a couple of days following her win at the World Weightlifting Championship 2022 in Bogotá, Columbia.

She had to settle for a silver in this edition of the tournament, after having clinched a gold in the 2017 one. She was all the more hailed for her commendable feat since she had an injured wrist.

Here’s a look into her life and journey to the name that she has been able to earn:

The beginnings of Mirabai Chanu

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu hails from Nongpok Kakching, a small village nestled at the foothills of the Imphal East district, 30 kms away from the city. As she belongs to a Meitei family, Saikhom is her family name, while Chanu is a name-suffix for girls of the clan.

According to her mother, she has always been “a determined child”, whether be it sports or academics. While growing up, she had always wanted to pursue sports, with her interests lying mainly with archery.

However, her short height rendered her incapable to take it up professionally. That was how she turned towards weightlifting.

Mirabai Chanu had to work extremely hard to make her place in the world of sports, all the more since her family had no background in the field.

Her father was a government contractual employee working with the public works department, her mother sold samosas on the street. She used to hitch rides from truck drivers to help her get to the practise sessions in the city.

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Mirabai Chanu shines, dims for a while

In an interview with the Olympic association, she had opened up about her inspirations- Kunjarani Devi, and Karnam Malleswari. She had always looked up to them, their journey, hardships, and how their success influenced her to move ahead with her passion for weightlifting.

As a woman, she was told repeatedly that weightlifting was not her forte; it is something that girls cannot do. Even though there have been times when it had broken her, but most of it built her, pushed her more towards her goal.

And she did win.

Chanu got her first big win in the Glasgow edition of Commonwealth Games in 2014. She clinched a silver in the 48 kg weight category. The 19-year-old Mirabai secured the second place with a cumulative lift of 170kgs (75+95)- 3 kgs short of the gold medal which was won by another Manipuri, K Sanjita Chanu.

However, in the 2016 Rio Olympics just 2 years later, she slipped to one of her personal lows to the point where she became one of the two participants who couldn’t finish the event.

Despite her personal best being at 107 kg, she failed to pick up 104kgs in her first attempt, and 106kgs in her other two attempts. It was a disappointing blow to the contingent who had much hoped for a medal from her.

Upwards, and onwards

Like a true sportsperson, Mirabai Chanu didnot waste time brooding on her disastrous Olympic show, for the very next year, she came back with a remarkable performance.

The 2017 World Weightlifting Championships were held in Anaheim, USA. This is where Chanu, participating in the 48 kg category, lifted a total of 194kgs- 84 kg followed by 109 kg. Such a presentation helped her not only the gold medal, but also achieve a new world record.

She also became only the second Indian weightlifter to have achieved a gold at this tournament after her inspiration, Karnam Malleswari did it way back in 1994 and 1995.

Her road ahead witnessed only success

After having won gold at the Commonwealth Senior Weightlifting Championship, she booked herself a berth for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where she bettered her record.

Mirabai Chanu clinched a gold by lifting a total of 196 kg, (86+110 kg), where she surpassed her own personal best, and broke the game record for her 48 kg category. Her gold was the first medal in the first day of the 2018 edition of the games.

The 2019 Asian Weightlifting Championship, and the 2019 World Weightlifting Championship, did not win her a medal.

Even though she kept breaking her own performance records, she found herself placed at the fourth spot, merely inches away from the Bronze. This might be owing to her back injury that had restricted her sports activities for 10 months.

However, she won a gold after lifting 203 kg, and a bronze after lifting 205 kg in the 2020 Senior National Weightlifting Championship, and 2020 Asian Weightlifting Championships. She had competed the events in the 49 kg category.

Her run this decade

Her life-long dream finally came true.

In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Chanu settled for the silver medal in her 49 kg weightlifting category by lifting a total of 202 kg (87+115 kg). She was the second Indian female weightlifter to have won a medal in weightlifting category, the first one being her idol Karnam Malleswari when she brought home a bronze in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

She created history by securing India’s first silver medal in weightlifting.

Though this was not her personal best, it had opened the nation’s account in the games. Furthermore, it was an enormous improvement from her performance in the last edition of the Olympic Games- the Rio 2016.

It told stories of her grit, her determination, and her iron will to represent India at the global platform.

She participated in this year’s Commonwealth Games and secured a gold medal in the 49 kg category with a 201 kg lift. A couple of months later, despite having a serious wrist injury, she managed to secure a silver medal at the World Weightlifting Championships. She lifted 200kgs in total.

In 2018, she was awarded not only the prestigious Padma Shri by the Government of India for her remarkable contributions in Sports, but also the highest sporting award in India-the Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.

The road ahead

It is reported that Chanu would take an injury-induced break from her lifting career as she has been facing issues related to her shoulder and backache. She has been restricted from lifting any weights, and has been prescribed a strict regime to deal with her bodily issues.

It is expected that she will make her comeback with the Asian Weightlifting Championship set to be held in May 2023.

We as a nation can only pray for her speedy recovery, hoping that she keeps inspiring the younger generation, and encourage youngsters to take up the sports.

Image source: From Mirabai Chanu’s twitter, edited on CanvaPro

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Akankha Basu Roy

The author is a Gen-Z kid who resorts to writing to vent out about the problematic ways of the world. Having majored in Theatre, English, and Psychology, I take a guilty pleasure in complex read more...

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