Why it could have been bullseyes instead of barbells for weightlifter Mirabai Chanu
Indian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu is the nation’s second sporting icon to emerge from Manipur but might have chosen a very different trajectory if things had been slightly different in 2007.
“I always knew, even as a kid, that I wanted to be a sportsperson and was actually aiming to be an archer,” the Indian weightlifter revealed in a live chat with rally racer Garima Avtar on IOS Sports and Entertainment’s Instagram page.
“But the archery centre was closed the day I went to pay a visit, so I happened to witness some weightlifters train by chance. I loved their intensity as a 14-year-old and thought long and hard at home about what sport I wanted to take up.”
Mirabai Chanu then read up on the sport’s history and came across the story of Indian weightlifting legend Kunjarani Devi, who later trained Mirabai Chanu.
Kunjarani Devi’s incredible journey from a small town to national recognition resonated with the youngster. Mirabai Chanu was then clear what she wanted to do next.
However, the journey was fraught with obstacles, the first one being her family’s disapproval. Her mother was sceptical of the costs that sport entails while her father was against the idea in general.
Eventually, the Indian weightlifter’s stubbornness won them over, but the issue of travel and the timings now cropped up. “I had to be at the gym to train at 5am and it would take me at least an hour to travel by bus,” she explained.
“Moreover, they made me do a lot of running and intense exercises which I was not used to and so, found difficult to cope with. But my coaches’ encouragement kept me going and my first national medal in 2009 set me on my way.”
Redemption for Rio 2016
The Indian weightlifter qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics, but the then 22-year-old’s nerves showed on the big day and she was unable to lift the clean and jerk in three attempts.
The performance was a blow to Mirabai Chanu’s confidence and she sought out her coach’s help to regain it. “He told me that you win on some days and lose on others so do not give it too much thought and instead work on the next tournament,” she said.
“I heeded his advice and decided to channel all my disappointment and energies to target a medal at the World Championships.”
She then travelled to Anaheim for the World Weightlifting Championship in 2017 and ended up with the gold, lifting a total of 194kg to break the then world record to become only the second Indian weightlifter to do so after Karnam Malleswari.
Further success was to follow the next year at the Commonwealth Games as Mirabai Chanu triumphed to win India’s first gold medal of the 2018 edition, going one better than her performance four years prior.
Dealing with the lockdown
The Indian weightlifter is going strong with her workout regime even during the national lockdown in India, which was extended for a third time recently, albeit with a few relaxations.
“I still follow a strict routine - exercising in the mornings and evenings, so most of my time is still spent there,” Mirabai Chanu stated. “I also have taken to decorating my house so other than working out, I try to give my room an aesthetic feel.”
The 25-year-old is currently fourth on the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF)’s Tokyo 2020 rankings, comfortable enough to travel to the Tokyo Olympics next year.
The pressure may have been her downfall last time but a fitter, more mature and better prepared Mirabai Chanu will no doubt be targeting an Olympic medal to add to her already impressive cabinet.