India’s star weight lifter Chanu Saikhom Mirabai opened India’s account on the first day of Tokyo Olympics 2020, on July 24, by bagging a silver medal. Chanu gained her ticket to Tokyo in 2020 after earning a bronze medal at the Asian Championship in Tashkent in April 2021.
The diminutive lifter from Manipur, Chanu lifted 84 kg and 87 kg successfully but failed to lift 89 kg in snatch, pushing her to the second spot, while China’s HOU Zhihu lifted 94 kg to create an Olympic record. The new Olympic record was registered by Chanu Saikhom Mirabai with a successful lift of 115 kg in clean and jerk.
Chanu’s career has always been dramatic. A quick recall to the 2016 Rio Olympics was when she failed to lift the weight, clean and jerk, in any of her three attempts. Similar was the situation during Asian Championship in Tashkent, when she had failed to lift weight clean and jerk in the first two attempts. However, in the final attempt, Chanu lifted 86 kg and then created a world record by lifting 119 kg in clean and jerk.
This a combined total of 205 kg had earned her bronze and a ticket to Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Born in Nongpok, Kakching, a village 45 km south of Imphal, capital of Manipur, Chanu initially had plans to become an archer. She was in grade eight when she read a chapter on Kunjarani Devi, another iconic weightlifter from Manipur. This story set Chanu’s heart on weight lifting. Youngest of the six siblings she received instant support from her mother, who noticed that Chanu could lift more weight than her brothers.
Chanu soon rose to her ambitions. In 2014, Chanu shot to national fame by winning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. After three years, Chanu became world champion in women’s 48 kg category at the World Weightlifting Championships. This was the first time in two decades that an Indian woman weightlifter had bagged a gold at the World Championships.
In 2018, she bagged yet another gold at the Commonwealth Games. She finished fourth at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in 2019, but with beating her earlier records with a combined total of 201 kg, thus crossing the 200 kg barrier for the first time.
It was in 2018 again when Chanu was also nursing her lower back pain. The pain shot up in 2020, preventing her from lifting weights and training to came to a complete standstill when the pandemic struck. Thankfully, in October 2020, Vijay Sharma, Chanu’s coach flew her to St Louis in the USA to receive training from former weightlifter and coach Aaron Horschig. The Sports Authority of India’s Mission Olympic Cell had also sanctioned close to Rs 71 lacs, under their initiative to support prospective medal winners.