A Padma Shri and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee, Mirabai Chanu is the only weightlifter from India participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu was just a five-year-old when Karnam Malleswari created history at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games by winning a bronze medal, the first by an Indian weightlifter. On Saturday, Mirabai, now 26, rewrote history books and lifted not just a total of 202 kg but also the spirit of millions back home by winning a silver medal, India's first at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
A Padma Shri and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee, Mirabai was the only weightlifter from India at the Tokyo Games. Her world ranking in the 49 kg weight category (second) and a good showing at international competitions recently made her a top medal prospect as she stepped into the Tokyo International Forum – a multi-purpose exhibition centre where the Olympic weightlifting event is taking place.
However, there were demons of the past that had to be exorcised first. At the last Olympics in Rio 2016, the Manipur weightlifter had been disqualified after failed lifts. Doubts, even thoughts of leaving the sport, entered her mind before a few sessions with a sports psychologist and some pep talk with family, friends and seniors settled it all.
Mirabai went on a record-breaking spree, winning medals at the Anaheim World Weightlifting Championships and also the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast.
When, after a break of nearly 16 months due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Indian team participated in the 2020 AWF Asian Senior Weightlifting Championships at Tashkent this April – the last qualification event for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games for the Indian senior team – Mirabai was determined to do something special.
The weightlifter from the sleepy village of Nongpok Kakching in Imphal east district stole the show from Chinese compatriots in clean and jerk event and created new records.
Mirabai arrived at the Games village in Tokyo earlier this month carrying a billion dreams and hopes. The weightlifter trained hard for July 24, the Saturday she had waited for years since that disappointing day in Rio.
Today, her first lift in snatch was 84 kg followed by 87 kg in second and 89 kg in third attempts which went unsuccessful. Adding over from snatch event, Mirabai lifted 110 kg, 115 kg in clean and jerk and 117 kg in the third attempt which went unsuccessful, finally making a total which ultimately fetched a silver medal.
As she stood at the podium, the entire India had already started celebrating Mirabai's remarkable feat.
"It is really a dream come true for me. I would like to dedicate this medal to my country and would like to thank the billion prayers of all Indians which were with me during this journey. I like to thank my family, especially my mother, for a lot of sacrifices and believing in me," said the weightlifter after winning the medal.
"I have been working with her from last eight years and have always loved her dedication towards the sport which encourages the coach and staff to work hard. Her fighting spirit is unbelievable. Despite facing injury for some time, she has made a strong comeback," Mirabai’s coach Vijay Sharma said today.
India has sent its largest-ever contingent of 127 athletes to Tokyo Olympics which also includes the highest female representation of 56 athletes.
"Could not have asked for a happier start to Tokyo 2020! India is elated by Mirabai Chanu's stupendous performance. Congratulations to her for winning the silver medal in weightlifting. Her success motivates every Indian," tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a file picture of him with the weightlifter.
Could not have asked for a happier start to @Tokyo2020! India is elated by @mirabai_chanu’s stupendous performance. Congratulations to her for winning the Silver medal in weightlifting. Her success motivates every Indian. #Cheer4India #Tokyo2020 pic.twitter.com/B6uJtDlaJo
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 24, 2021
Abhinav Bindra, India's only individual gold medallist at the Olympics, said Mirabai's inspiring performance will be remembered for a long time to come and will inspire generations.