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Mirabai Chanu: Tokyo Olympics 2021, India’s quest for gold

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Sacrifices lead to success. Mirabai Chanu’s journey was a roller coaster ride. She has gone from collecting scraps of wood to precious metal; elevating the hopes of a nation along with it.

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Saikhom Mirabai Chanu was born on 8 August 1994 in Nongpok Kakching, Imphal, Manipur. She was born to a poor family in Nongpok Kakching village about 20 kilometers from Imphal. The youngest among six siblings, Mirabai would go to collect firewood from a nearby hill with her brother Saikhom Sanatomba Meitei, who is four years elder to her.

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She could easily carry a huge bundle of firewood to her home which her elder brother found it hard to even pick up. Her family identified her strength from an early age when she was just 12. The wooden material that is normally gathered and used for fuel, probably fuelled her dreams too, to make it big one day.

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“One day I could not lift the bundle of firewood but Mira easily lifted it and took it our home, about two kilometers away. She was about 12-year-old then. I used to play football then and I could see the passion in her to do something. She gradually went on to join weightlifting. She always has the passion to achieve big. She never put herself under pressure and is always ice-cool, something that was evident in her flawless lift,” Sanatomba, Mirabai’s Brother said.

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By the time she was 14 and she was wholly and solely inspired by female weightlifter Kunjarani Devi – a seven-time silver-medallist in the World Championships. But there were hardly any facilities or any infrastructure in her village to practice weightlifting. Mirabai eventually found herself under the tutelage of coach Anita Chanu and would travel around 50 kilometers over hilly terrains daily for her training. Chanu used bamboo trunks as barbells to hone her technique and after six months switched to conventional tools. In one of her interviews, Chanu told, “In order to rise high or get what you want in your life you need to make a lot of sacrifices.”

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Chanu’s first breakthrough game was the Glasgow edition of the Commonwealth Games; she won the silver medal in the 48 kg weight category. And it was the first time she took part in a Weightlifting competition and represented India.

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Chanu qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics in the women’s 48 kg category. However, she failed to finish the event as she failed to lift the weight in any of her three attempts in the clean & jerk section. But by then stories about the weightlifter were being lampooned after the flop show at Rio Olympics.
“I was really low after the Olympics. It took me a lot of time to get over the disappointment,” she had said.

Mirabai had so much faith and fire inside her. And just after a year, she showed what she was capable of. In 2017, Chanu set a record by lifting 194 kg in total (85 kg snatch and 109 kg clean & jerk) to secure India’s first gold in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships held at Anaheim, CA, United States.

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“I don’t want a silver in the Olympics, I want gold,” said Mirabai Chanu. Now, she was unstoppable just after the World Championship last year. Chanu lifted a total of 196 kg, 86 kg in Snatch, and 110 kg in Clean and Jerk to win the first gold medal for India in the Commonwealth Games 2018. She broke the game’s record for the weight category; the effort also marked her personal best performance.

Her achievement was duly recognized as the Indian government bestowed her with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the highest sporting honor in the country, and the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award, in 2018.

There was a lot of financial crisis in Chanu’s family and they could hardly support her. Despite all the hardships she reached so high in her career and made India and her family proud. Things, however, have changed since the success she has achieved all through these years.

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Chanu had a confusing period filled with anxiety when the weightlifting schedule went haywire due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I lost out on some confidence because of this one-year break as we didn’t compete anywhere. Doubts crept in, you keep thinking ‘what will happen, how will I perform’, it was a confusing time,” Chanu said.

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But the wait is finally over Mirabai Chanu has qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 49 kg category IWF confirmed. She’s very determined and focused after a long wait and will be fighting for gold.

Visual Credits: Prachi Bora
Article by Rajashree Roy, The North-Eastern Chronicle

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