Mirabai Chanu: Hoping to lift India’s hopes

Mirabai Chanu recently shattered the clean and jerk world record with a mark of 119kg and took her maiden Asian championships medal, a bronze in women’s 49kg, with a personal best total of 205kg, in Tashkent.

Mirabai Chanu is keen to get rid of a ‘technical flaw’ in her snatch lifts to achieve perfection ahead of the test in Tokyo.   -  Getty Images

Homemade eromba, a spicy Manipuri chutney, has to wait for a few months for Saikhom Mirabai Chanu because the champion weightlifter is too focused on her game in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. She knows she cannot afford to put a foot wrong as a minor glitch can spoil years of hard work in the quest for the ultimate glory — an Olympic medal in Tokyo.

Mirabai, who recently shattered the clean and jerk world record with a mark of 119kg and took her maiden Asian championships medal, a bronze in women’s 49kg with a personal best total of 205kg, in Tashkent, understands the essence of weightlifting — fighting the odds at every step.

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Everything poses a hurdle — a heavier iron disc, minutest of technical adjustment, the body, the mind and the pressure. Mirabai, a former World champion in 48kg, has experienced it all and realises that the gap between success and failure can be finer than a thread. That explains why she had her heart in her mouth when she failed in her first two attempts, trying to lift 86kg, in snatch in Tashkent.

Her concern was more about the faults, which might pose bigger problems at the highest stage. So, in the next three months, Mirabai is keen to get rid of a ‘technical flaw’ in her snatch lifts to achieve perfection ahead of the test in Tokyo.

“Now I have to improve my snatch performance. The effort will be not to fail in any of the attempts,” said Mirabai.

India’s chief coach Vijay Sharma has diagnosed the problem and knows how to iron it out. A similar effort in correcting Mirabai’s clean and jerk lifts helped the diminutive lifter overcome an embarrassing ‘no lift’ in the 2016 Rio Olympics to make a massive turnaround and achieve the clean and jerk feat in Tashkent now.

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“We learnt a lot from the Rio failure. The problem was related to the technique of lifting. We worked on a better technique and with time it started to give better results,” said Sharma.

“Like clean and jerk, we need to iron out a technical issue with Mira’s snatch. I am sure she can improve her overall total up to 209kg. The world record has made me confident about Mira’s capability.”

The clean and jerk issue was not the only problem Mirabai had to deal with between Rio and Tokyo. A career-threatening lower back pain, which forced her to pull out of the 2018 Asian Games and stay out of action for a considerable period, continued to bother her till last year.

Finally, a physiotherapy treatment in the USA late last year seemed to have resolved the problem as the 26-year-old Mirabai gave a better performance in the Asian championships without complaining of any pain.

“It was a bio-mechanical fault on her left side which used to put pressure on the right side when she took load. She was primarily treated with some strength training,” said Sharma.

“I continued to do the exercises prescribed in the USA. The treatment was beneficial,” added Mirabai.

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After the pain subsided, Mirabai trained with confidence and achieved around 205kg during training. Before Tashkent, she knew she could achieve something big.

“I was doing up to 120kg in my training in clean and jerk and went for the word record from the beginning. It is a big achievement. Rewriting a world record is never easy. A lot of hard work goes into it. It will give me more confidence (going into the Olympics),” said Mirabai.

“It is a huge source of satisfaction as I worked on my technique and strength after my failure in Rio.”

Since the top-notch lifters in the world in women’s 49kg come from the Asian countries, a bronze medal with a 200-plus total — behind two Chinese Hou Zhihui (213kg) and Jiang Huihua 207kg — in the Asian championships has made the high-ranking Mirabai (who has practically sealed a berth in the Olympics after fulfilling the criteria by taking part in the continental event) a strong contender for a medal in Tokyo.

The pullout of North Korea, and the subsequent withdrawal of Ri Song Gum (who has a personal best of 209kg), has enhanced Mirabai’s prospects.

However, Sharma is not bothered about the field. “The most important thing is Mira has to improve her own performance. Her competition is with herself, the aim is to get better,” said Sharma, anticipating Mira to become the first Indian lifter to claim Olympic glory in more than two decades.