While she tries to start the day with a lift as close as possible to double of her weight, Mira, fondly called by her coaches and dear ones, will also have the burden of giving flight to a billion dreams back home. One of the first events of the Games, Mirabai will have the opportunity to give India’s overall Olympic sojourn a head start on the opening day itself, and rightly so.
However, she was in a similar situation in Rio as well, albeit with less experience to back her ability at the biggest stage of the sport. Then too a favourite to finish on the podium, she only had one successful snatch and failed to complete any of her three clean and jerk attempts, thereby receiving a DNF (did not finish). It’s been five years since the heartbreaking turn of events and it’s time to exorcise the ghosts of nerves, a common issue with debutants.
Training in Tokyo.#Tokyo2020 https://t.co/qLll2lnvua
— Saikhom Mirabai Chanu (@mirabai_chanu) 1626687730000
“I have big hopes for the Olympics. I believe that hard work always translates into success. Rio is a thing of past. I cried all the way to my room from the stadium after failing to complete my event. Being my debut Games, suddenly I became nervous while lifting (in Rio), didn’t know what happened after all the hard work, practice and good show in the competitions leading up to the Games. Now I am matured to handle the pressure and confident of winning a medal in Tokyo,” Mirabai had said earlier during an interaction. “I have worked very hard to be more perfect with my technique, especially in clean and jerk.”
However, to materialise her dreams of becoming only the second weightlifter from India to win an Olympic medal after Karnam Malleswari’s bronze in Sydney 2000, Mirabai must do much better in snatch part.
Finally reached our destination. #Tokyo2020 Games Village. https://t.co/huqjKVnM79
— Saikhom Mirabai Chanu (@mirabai_chanu) 1626441808000
Being a natural lifter, the 26-year-old effortlessly does much better in clean and jerk which requires less technique and more power. And setting a world record of 119kg in clean and jerk in Asian Championship in Tashkent in April this year is a testimony to the fact. What she lacks is in the snatching part which is more technical and precedes clean and jerk.
The same event in Uzbekistan, an Olympic qualifier, gave the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games silver medallist (in 48kg category) a reality check. Two failed snatch attempts almost ruined her day and she barely managed to lift 86kg in her final chance to remain in the competition. That snatch placed her fourth on the list, behind China’s Hou Zhihui – a favourite for gold and Mirabai’s main opponent in Tokyo – with 96kg, Jiang Huihua’s 89 kg and Windy Cantika Aisah’s 87kg. In clean and jerk, Mirabai was on top, one ahead of Huihua, two of Zhihui and 17 of Aisah.
Tokyo Olympics Countdown: Know your athlete – Mirabai Chanu
However, Mirabai booked her place by winning a bronze medal there and qualified for Tokyo on the basis of her standings on IWLF’s absolute ranking list. But a good start will not only take the pressure off Mirabai before she goes on to her strength – clean and jerk, it may well catapult her to gold standard.
To identify and rectify the possible problem which makes her snatch susceptible, and address some injury concerns, Mirabai has undergone a 50-day preparatory camp starting in May, under the watchful eyes of former US national-level lifter turned strength and conditioning coach Dr Aaron Horschig in St Louis. India national coach Vijay Sharma, assistant coach Sandip Kumar and physiotherapist Aalap Javadekar accompanied Mirabai there.
A shoulder niggle and lower-back injury, which kept India’s only lifter in Tokyo out for a major part of 2018, reared its head after the lockdown in March 2020. She also felt some pain in her lower back after Asian Championships. However, Mirabai has put the lockdown and pandemic-enforced postponement of the Games by a year to good use by ironing out the loopholes in techniques. Regular virtual training sessions as well as mental conditioning have kept Mirabai in good stead.
At the end of the rehabilitation and training camp, for which Sport Authority of India (SAI) approved Rs 40 lakh under Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), Mirabai boarded the flight to Tokyo directly from the US on Thursday which will also make her free from any soft quarantine rules to be followed by the athletes flying from India.
It was learnt that Horschig, one of the sought-after professionals, treated her issues related to stability in her right shoulder. Horschig realized the issue of Mirabai’s right shoulder going out of sync with the left while in movement for the snatch and solved the asymmetry problem when going for the turnover.
A corrective exercise helped in the desired movement of shoulder blades with respect to the rib cage and spine. “My shoulder gets tight sometimes and it affects my snatch. Because of the shoulder issue, I have doubts sometimes. For this, exercises are happening and there’s more focus on the technique now,” Mirabai had said earlier. She has trained under Horschig before as well.
Now ranked second in her weight category, Mirabai started her journey lifting firewood in the nearby forests of her native place for livelihood long ago. A real contender for the gold, we have less than a week to find out if she can start a new chapter in Indian weightlifting.