Between the smiles and the incessant waving to the crowd, airport staff and fellow travellers, the weightlifter and her team revealed the pain that accompanied her medal performance, of how abdominal cramps a night before the competition almost threw her equilibrium and preparation completely out of gear.
On landing, Mirabai underwent the mandatory RT-PCR test for Covid-19. Before she was escorted out of the arrival hall by security personnel, the champion weightlifter, flanked by chief national coach Vijay Sharma, sat down for a brief media interaction.
They spoke of the agonisingly painful, sleepless night that almost derailed months of preparation, and how a ‘Plan B’ had to be swiftly devised.
Everything was going without a hitch, revealed Sharma. Till Friday afternoon, a day before the competition, Mirabai seemed in fine fettle, lifting good weights during training sessions. Later in the day, however, she developed menstrual cramps, forcing the coaching staff to completely abandon their plans and revisit their weightlifting strategy for the day.
“Our preparation was solid, but it a day before her final, she encountered these cramps in the lower abdomen. We weren’t expecting this,” he said.
Mirabai, on her part, said, “I was tense and told coach sir about it. I wondered why it has happened now, so close to my medal match? There was doubt in my mind because your body starts reacting differently. But I kept my focus and stopped thinking about it later.
She added, “As athletes, we face such problems often and we know how to handle them.”
Sharma said, “There was tension in the night before her medal round. Both of us were under tremendous stress. We changed our strategy for the final, as there was no point taking a risk.
“We were always targeting gold and Mirabai was confident about achieving the mark. But this whole issue resulted in Mirabai’s performance taking a hit during the final. She missed those two lifts (one in snatch, 89kg and one in clean and jerk, 117kg), which she should have completed. We could have given the Chinese lifter (eventual gold winner Hou Zhihui) a better fight.”
It is nothing new for female athletes to experience a disturbed menstrual cycle because of anxiety, heavy workload or intense training sessions.
It has happened earlier to Mirabai too, a day before her event at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. She put it behind her and won a sensational gold in the women’s 48kg category.
In Tokyo, Mirabai took the silver lifting a total of 202 kg, 87 kg in snatch and 115 kg in clean and jerk. Gold winner Hu Zhihui won gold by lifting a total of 210 kg, setting a new Olympic record in both snatch (94kg) and clean and jerk (116kg). Indonesia’s Windy Cantika Aisah settled for silver with a total lift of 194 kg.
While describing her whole Olympics experience as “unforgettable”, Mirabai credited the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) swift decision to arrange for her trainingcum-exposure trip to the US within 24 hours before the flight ban on Indian travellers was imposed.
She travelled to St. Louis in the US to work with renowned strength and conditioning coach Dr Aaron Horschig ahead of the Olympics at a cost of Rs 70 lakh.