But that’s also when it all unravelled. Mirabai failed to record a single lift in her three attempts to crash out of the competition. Five of her six lifts were ruled invalid.
Those images – a miserable Mirabai, teary eyes hidden behind her hands, chief national coach Vijay Sharma trying to console her but to no avail — are still vivid in memory. And perhaps, on Saturday, when the Manipur lifter steps up at the Tokyo International Forum’s arena, those images will flash before her eyes. It could make her wilt, or that could also mean that Mirabai gets an opportunity to bury those ghosts set herself free from the painful memories of Rio. So which Mirabai will show up on Saturday?
Entering the arena as a World No. 2, a world record to her name, a world championship gold in the interim, Mirabai is expected to open India’s medal count in a slightly altered women’s 49kg category.
In a bold move, signalling her intent, on Friday, Mirabai entered the highest weight in the start list shared by the event officials in Tokyo. She declared to lift a sensational 210kg during her competition, ahead of all her nearest competitors – China’s Hou Zhihui, world No 1, in contrast, has opted for a safer, more conservative approach by offering to lift a maximum of 205kg.
Whether Mirabai’s aggressive tactics will serve her well remains to be seen. She will have to smartly plan her break-ups in both the clean and jerk and snatch. Given that there’s an exemption of 20kg than the maximum weight listed, she will have to attempt at least a 190kg lift in her first shot to set the tone for the rest of the competition.
But then, there has been a remarkable turnaround to the Mirabai approach since the Rio disappointment. A year after that DNF, there was a historic gold at the World Championships which she followed up with a Commonwealth Games gold in 2018. In clean and jerk, Mirabai now holds the world record with a 119kg lift recorded in Tashkent during the Asian Championships.
Last year’s Olympic postponement also helped Mirabai work on her recurring lower back and shoulder injury in the US. She is primed to finish on the podium in Tokyo but will have to watch out for her Chinese nemesis Hou Zhihui, USA’s Delacruz Jourdan Elizabeth, Indonesian Aisah Windy Cantika and Belgium’s Sterckx Nina. Like the China’s Zhihui, Cantika (203kg), Elizabeth (200kg) and Nina (199kg) have displayed a cautious approach in their startlist weights on Friday.
At the Asian championships in Tashkent in April, Zhihui had lifted a total of 213kg for gold – 96kg in snatch and 117kg in Clean and Jerk. In the same meet, where she won the bronze, Mirabai could manage 86kg in snatch but came up with a world-record lift of 119kg in clean and jerk for a total of 205kg, still eight short of Zhihui’s effort. Cantika and Elizabeth, too, are ahead of the Indian. Mirabai’s personal best in snatch is 88kg.