Kunjarani and Malleswari are the best bet

KUNJARANI DEVI and Karnam Malleswari may be within knocking distance of a medal in Athens, but make no mistake about the other women lifters.

KIRTI PATIL

Karnam Malleswari in action during Olympics 2000. She won a bronze there. Can India expect a medal from this lifter in Athens? — Pic. AFP-

KUNJARANI DEVI and Karnam Malleswari may be within knocking distance of a medal in Athens, but make no mistake about the other women lifters.

The other two — Sanamacha Chanu and Pratima Kumari — could best be described as extra baggage on the flight to Athens. They are far away from the field in terms of competitive edge. In fact, the weights the two achieved at the training camps — first at the NIS Patiala and then in Minsk, Belarus — have been anything but convincing.

In this setting, Sydney Olympics bronze medallist Malleswari takes the cake.

In just one month in Belarus — the heaven for recovery experts and anything that goes with the modern sports medicine — Malleswari may have reduced her weight by six kg, but maintaining it till the day of weighing in, August 18, would be important.

Precisely so, because when the quartet left for Belarus in early June, Kunjarani was the lone hope. Malleswari, with her bodyweight at 69 kg-plus, was a rank outsider both in 75 kg and 69 kg. However, by drastically reducing her bodyweight she has given herself yet another shot at an Olympic medal.

Malleswari has improved

Interestingly, not only Malleswari recovered from the knee operation she underwent in March even while reducing her weight, she also improved on her lifting capabilities. How? Ask the former World and Olympic champion Leonid Taranenko, the foreign coach of Indian lifters. Backyard training seems to have brought in a lot of advantage. And, as if the Belarussian spun a magic wand, Malleswari added 10 kg more to the Sydney bronze-winning lift. Taranenko claims that Malleswari lifted 250 kg in practice — remember the lifter could never haul up such weights even when she was in her prime.

But for the latest from Malleswari, the women lifters had an agonizing lead-up to the Athens Games. After having secured four Olympic berths at the first qualification tournament — the Vancouver World championships — the top women shied away from competitions. The only event they took part in, to test their preparedness, was the Asian championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this April. There, the Chinese, Thai and the Central Asian lifters overshadowed the Indian women.

Problems

If that wasn't enough, the 63 kg lifter Sunaina tested positive at Almaty for 19-norandrosterone, a closely related derivative of steroid nandrolone. The plethora of positives turned up at the national meets had to have its cascading effect — even though pre-departure testing at the SAI lab in New Delhi was a standard procedure.

Kunjarani Devi is another medal prospect for India. — Pic. K. GOPINATHAN-

A further setback was shoulder injury to 53 kg lifter Nandini Devi, who was sixth in Vancouver. With two potent lifters out of contention, the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF) was left with a limited choice.

In Belarus, Kunjarani touched 190 kg, according to Taranenko. If that can be reproduced in competition, she stands a chance for a medal in Athens.

The statistics, however, reveal the otherwise.

Joint fourth in rankings

In the 48 kg weight class' individual qualification ranking list for Olympics, Kunjarani is placed joint fourth with Nurcan Taylan of Turkey. Both Nurcan and Kunjarani have competition lifts of 187.5 kg — the Turkish World bronze medallist achieving it in Vancouver while the Indian, who lifted 182.5 kg at the Worlds, improving by five kg in Almaty.

China, the top contender

China remains the top contender as Li Zhuo (205 kg) is way ahead. Aree Wiratthaworn (190 kg) of Thailand and Nan Aye Khine (190 kg) of Myanmar are also in the reckoning, but nonetheless they are in Kunjarani's striking range.

In the worst-case scenario, it may all boil down to the body weight. Besides being on the wrong side of the age, at 36-year-old, Kunjarani weighs heavier than others in her category.

In contrast, Malleswari's performance provided too many thoughts for the rumourmongers. She was fielded in the 75 kg category in Vancouver and, as the IWF insists, this strategic move backfired. She weighed 69.23 kg and lifted a total of 235 kg to finish 12th.

In 69 kg she would have been in an even worse situation with the top five lifters, led by Chinese Liu Chunhong, having lifts in excess of 250 kg.

``She could even be fielded in 63 kg,'' Bhatia had hinted in June. And, that just about explains everything. In 63 kg, Malleswari should be pushing for a medal, considering that she reproduces her practice lift in the competition.