Tokyo Olympics: A look at lone weightlifter

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A talented weightlifter who has firmly established herself in the top echelons of the sport, Mirabai Chanu is one of India’s best bets to win an Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020. A regular presence at the international stage since 2014, the 26-year-old has bagged numerous titles and accolades along the way. Putting the disappointments of Rio 2016 behind her, Chanu will be hoping to bag a medal after her stellar run-in in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Mirabai’s first major breakthrough came at the Glasgow edition of the Commonwealth Games where she won the silver medal in the 48kg weight category. She also comfortably qualified for the 2016 Rio Games in the women’s 48kg category, but the pressure of performing at the biggest stage of all got to her as she failed to lift the weight in any of her three attempts in the clean & jerk section and bowed out rather timidly. After coming back to India, Chanu had to seek the help of a sports psychologist to deal with her heartbreak, but the failure only increased her resolve to do better in the future. The Manipuri weightlifter roared back in style in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships held in Anaheim, CA, United States. Chanu cleared 85kg in the snatch section before posting another 109kg in the clean & jerk section to score a combined total of 194kgs and in the process set the competition record as she grabbed gold.

The then 25-year-old broke another record at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as she lifted a total weight of 196kg (86kg in snatch and 110kg in the clean & jerk section), winning India’s first gold medal at the Games. Since then, Charu has only gotten better with each tournament. She won a bronze medal at the 2019 Asian Weightlifting Championships, lifting a total weight of 199kg – her personal best at the time. She broke into the 200s in the 2019 World Weightlifting Championships with a combined weight of 201kg, but it was only good for fourth place as her snatch weight was lower than the third-placed weightlifter, who had a similar score to her. Four months later, she broke her own and the national record with a 203kg to win gold at the 2020 Senior National Weightlifting Championships.

Ahead of the Tokyo Games, in April at the 2021 Asian Championships, Chanu won bronze as she lifted an incredible 119kg in the clean & jerk section, which is a world record in itself. As she boards the flight to Tokyo, she must improve her snatch performance and must breach the 90kg mark given her closest competitor and top seed, Hou Zhihui of China, is capable of easily breaching the 95kg mark in the snatch section. But before breaking into the 90s, Chanu must make sure that her lifts are legal. During the Asian Championships, she faltered on her first two attempts before successfully registering 86kg on her final attempt.

The Padmashree award winner will be engulfed in a three-way tussle for gold at the Summer Olympics, although the top two weightlifters in the 49kg category are Chinese, the Olympic Federation only allows one representative from each country for every weight category. And the current third seed, Ri Song Gum of North Korea, will not be taking part as her nation pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics. That leaves United States’ weightlifter Elizabeth Jourdan Delacruz as the third contender for gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Delacruz is the 2019 IWF World Cup champion and two-time Pan American champion (2019, 2020).

Talking with Outlook, Mirabai said, “I have big hopes for the Olympics. There is a self-belief. And I always believe that hard work always translates into success. Yes, I am confident of winning a medal. I will give my best.”

 “I have to improve snatch to be at par with the Chinese. The difference in snatch is more. I knew I couldn’t cover that much but I had prepared for 91kg-92kg (for the Asian Championship) but that didn’t pan out as expected.

 “My back got a bit loose. I never thought I’d not be able to lift (85kg). But then sir (coach Vijay Sharma) added one kilogram and I was only thinking ”whatever happens I have to lift this”.

 “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.

 “The only good thing was that I went to USA and trained. That helped me a lot. It was a change for me, mentally as well.

 “There I was just made to do exercises of the back and right shoulder. That has helped me a lot, it improved my squat and snatch.”

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