Jeremy Lalrinnunga put Commonwealth Games gold medal on phone wallpaper months before he made it happen

On Sunday at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Center, Jeremy manifested a vision into reality, becoming India’s second gold medallist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Jeremy Lalrinnunga with his family. He has been training away from home since he was nine years old and rarely gets to spend time with them.

Jeremy Lalrinnunga with his family. He has been training away from home since he was nine years old and rarely gets to spend time with them. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

On Sunday at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Center, Jeremy manifested a vision into reality, becoming India’s second gold medallist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Jeremy Lalrinnunga, a teenager, changes his phone wallpaper quite frequently. It’s usually a picture of him with his friends or the newest tattoo.

But, since May 4 of this year, Jeremy has not changed the wallpaper. The image set against a solid black background is that of the 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medal.

“When the design of the Commonwealth Games medals was released, I immediately downloaded the picture from social media. I saved the gold medal as my wallpaper. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, and it's the last thing I see before I go to sleep. It is a huge motivation for me,” Lalrinnunga had told Sportstar a few weeks ago.

“When the design of the Commonwealth Games medals was released, I immediately downloaded the picture from social media. I saved the gold medal as my wallpaper,” Lalrinnunga said.

“When the design of the Commonwealth Games medals was released, I immediately downloaded the picture from social media. I saved the gold medal as my wallpaper,” Lalrinnunga said. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

On Sunday at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Center, Jeremy manifested that vision into reality, becoming India’s second gold medallist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Competing in the men’s 67kg competition, Jeremy made a snatch of 140kg and then a clean and jerk of 160kg to total 300kg (Games record). He finished seven kg clear of his nearest competitor.

Since he became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Youth Olympics in 2018, the 19-year-old from Aizawl, Mizoram has been marked as a special talent. Injuries had flattened his career trajectory somewhat, but the Commonwealth Games gold might be the shot in the arm that he needed to get things back on track.

Jeremy has always been a fan of shiny things. As a child, growing up in Aizawl, he had a couple of ‘toys’ that he was particularly fond of. They were the medals of his father, Lalneihtluanga, who had won two gold medals at the sub-junior national level. “They were mounted on the wall of our house. But my brothers and I would play with them all the time. We would pretend we were champions. We even lost one of his medals while playing,” Jeremy recalls.

Lalneihtluanga didn’t mind his children – Jeremy is the middle of five brothers – playing with his medals, but he did expect them to win some of their own. “They had two options. They could box or become a weightlifter,” he says. At eight, Jeremy chose the latter. “I thought it would be fun. It seemed like something men should do,” he says. He started training at the Weightlifting Academy at the State Sports Coaching Center in Aizawl, learning to lift weights using bamboo sticks and water pipes.

Even at an early age it was clear that the little boy was made for bigger things. A year into his training, he was selected after a trial to train at the Army Sports Institute in Pune in 2011. “I didn't know anything before I came to Pune. I only spoke Mizo. I couldn't even speak to anyone," he says. These days, Jeremy speaks Hindi and English and is conversant in Punjabi because of his time at the national camp in Patiala since 2015.

While the Youth Olympics medal brought him into national reckoning, he had already caught the international weightlifting community’s attention in 2016 when as a 13-year-old – the second youngest in the competition – he won the silver in the 56kg division in the World Youth Championships. He would go on to win another silver at the 2017 World Youth Championships, followed by a silver and a bronze at the 2018 Asian Youth Championships and then finally, the historic Youth Olympics gold in Buenos Aires.

There was little doubt that Jeremy was a prodigious talent. Vijay Sharma, who coached Mirabai Chanu to Olympic silver, isn’t always effusive with his praise, but he makes an exception for Jeremy. “He is special. He is obviously God-gifted, but what really helps is his complete dedication to the sport. That's a rare quality at his age," says Sharma.

But just as his career was shaping to take off, Jeremy seemed to have stalled – his career best total and national record of 306kg was set two years ago in 2019. In early 2021 a cyst in the back of the knee needed surgery and he returned without a medal from the 2021 Asian Championships and the Junior World Championships. Then when he seemed to have returned to some form, winning gold at the 2021 Commonwealth Championships, he had another injury.

This was a far more challenging one. While attempting a deadlift at training in February this year, Jeremy felt a sharp streak of pain along his spine. It was diagnosed that he had a bulged spinal disc. Although he was initially at risk of missing out on the CWG, a combination of therapy, pain management, and a determination to make the Games saw Jeremy recover in time.

“It was a little disappointing because I had to completely stop training for a month. I only did therapy work and strengthening. It was very frustrating,” he says. But, whenever he had a moment of self-doubt, he simply looked at his phone to remember his goal.

There are other sacrifices that aren’t as visible. Jeremy has dedicated his life to weightlifting since a very young age, and it’s easy to forget that he is still a young man. “Injuries are difficult. But the hardest thing is staying away from my family. I’ve been training away from them since I was nine. The last time I went home was in July 2020. I’ve not attended my brothers’ weddings, and I’ve not celebrated Christmas at home since 2017. I really miss being with my mom. I am now used to eating North Indian food. I’ve adapted so I can live anywhere. But I always think about eating my mother’s food. I miss eating her pork curry and the boiled vegetables,” he says.

Jeremy tries his best to stay in touch with his roots. “Before I work out, I listen to Punjabi songs. But once I’m done training, I listen to a lot of Mizo music. It’s usually devotional stuff. I like the singer Vanlalsailova a lot. These days I’m listening to ‘I dam leh ngei dawn’,” he says.

Jeremy says he often thinks about what he’ll do once he goes back home. “When I was younger, I would box with my brothers or play football with them. At the camp, we can’t play these games because there’s always a risk of injury. When I go back home, I’ll go on a field and play some football,” he says.

All that, as the wallpaper on his phone reminded him, had to wait as he chased the Commonwealth gold medal.

Now, he plans to go home for a few days. But the visit will be a short one. He’s already looking ahead. “We have the World Championships at the end of the year and then the start of the qualification period for the Paris Olympics. That’s my target now,” he says.

And in case he forgets, he plans on setting up another wallpaper reminder. “It’s going to be the Olympic rings.”

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