Jeremy Lalrinnunga: Lifting Indian spirits

The 16-year-old Jeremy Lalrinnunga is a teen sensation and is a medal prospect for the country in the Olympics.

Jeremy Lalrinnunga won the 62kg gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games.   -  Getty Images

“I have seen a lot of top-class weightlifters and trained so many of them, including World champion Mirabai Chanu, but I have never seen a natural weightlifter like Jeremy Lalrinnunga. After he joined the National camp, he has changed his technique by only 10 per cent. He is so perfect as a weightlifter,” says National chief coach Vijay Sharma.

Zarzokima, who taught Jeremy, the first Indian to claim a Youth Olympics gold medal in Buenos Aires in 2018, the early lessons of the sport at the Army Sports Institute (ASI), Pune, concurs.

“Jeremy is a gifted lifter — extremely talented, super confident, very clever and a good learner. Once in a while you find such a talented guy,” says Zarzokima.

All these qualities have already made 16-year-old Jeremy a teen sensation and project him as a medal prospect for the country in the Olympics.

The Aizawl boy’s journey may be a short one, but it is interesting.

The third child among five sons of Lalneihtluanga and his wife Lalmuanpuii, Jeremy was inspired to see his boxer father donning the gloves and took to boxing at an early age. But, a visit to a weightlifting hall in his neighbourhood changed his loyalty.

As a 10-year-old, Jeremy liked the challenge involved in lifting heavy weights. He trained there for about a month under the guidance of coach Malsawma before being picked in an Army Sports Institute (ASI) talent hunt initiative. He had to shift to Pune along with his best friend Jacob Tluanga in 2012.

“Jeremy was too frail for lifting weights at that time. He could not even lift the minimum weight, which is less than 30kg. So, I started him on the dummy bar of about seven-eight kg,” says Zarzokima, who, being familiar with the Mizo language, became a coach-cum-guardian to Jeremy and his friends from Mizoram.

“The biggest challenge was the language as it was very difficult for the kids to carry out day-to-day activities. So, I helped them learn Hindi. Being an intelligent boy and a quick learner, Jeremy learnt it very fast.”

Jeremy’s stint at the ASI, where he also continued with his schooling, was full of joy and thrill.

“We stayed and trained together at the ASI. We used to have fun, went home together during vacations,” remembers Jacob, Jeremy’s ‘best friend.’

“We have been friends since the time we were six years old. Our houses were very close to each other and we met for the first time in a church, back home. We became even closer in Pune.

“Even today, we are in regular touch and we speak over phone for one to two hours, two-three times a week. I have not met him after he won the Youth Olympics gold medal, but we will meet sooner than later as I will move to the National camp early next year. Jeremy has promised to give me a gift on my birthday in April,” says Jacob.

Lalrinnunga in action during the Youth Olympic Games.   -  Reuters

 

The sprawling campus of the ASI provided a lot of scope for Jeremy to explore his boyhood. “We used to have a lot of mango trees on the campus. And there was a strict instruction that nobody should pluck mangoes from the trees. Jeremy was a naughty boy, so it was not a surprise when he was caught plucking mangoes with his friends. However, since they were not aware of the instruction, they were let off with a warning. After that, he never did it again,” says Zarzokima.

Meanwhile, Jeremy made good progress as a lifter and caught the national federation’s attention by winning three gold medals in the National youth championships. He shifted to the National camp in Patiala in 2016.

“The training schedule and the diet were different in the National camp. I made friends with well known athletes from different sports. For example, I have developed a good relationship with (javelin thrower) Neeraj (Chopra) bhaiya. I get motivated by seeing such star athletes.

“Rest is the same. Since I was used to living away from home, I hardly had any problems,” says Jeremy.

He is just a teenager, but Jeremy is mentally strong. He does miss his family, including his kid brother Jacob Vanlalthazuala, a Class II student, but he has taken it in his stride. “Once in a while I miss them, especially on festivals. I have not been home for the last two years for Christmas.”

Jeremy’s inherent mental toughness helps him while lifting weights in competitions as well. “I never bother whether it’s a training session or any competition. I just go out there and give my best. I don’t become too serious for any competition — whether it’s the National championships or the Youth Olympics. Just the place is different.

“My self-belief is my strength. Like every person, I too get negative thoughts, but I control them and focus on the positives.” Vijay Sharma vouches for Jeremy’s amazing mental strength. “I have put in the least effort for Jeremy. While preparing for the Youth Olympics, I once told him how I trained R.V. Rahul, who went on to bag a Youth Olympics silver (in 2014). Then Jeremy said, ‘This time we will not be satisfied with the silver medal. We will go for the gold. Please prepare me to win the gold medal,’” recollects Sharma.

“Now, I want to make it a rare double by winning the gold medal in the Olympics as well. That’s my only ambition in life,” says Lalrinnunga.   -  Jonathan Nackstrand for OIS/IOC

 

Even Zarzokima, who shares a close bonding with Jeremy’s parents and keeps them updated about their son’s performance, was amazed to see the confidence of his ward. “I knew he would get a medal in 62kg class in the Youth Olympics, but didn’t know that it would be a gold. He was very confident ahead of the Youth Olympics. Whatever he said, he did.”

According to Sharma, Jeremy’s sincerity and natural abilities make him a special weightlifter. “He always gives his 100 per cent. And he is obedient. He was born to be a lifter. When he came to the National camp two years ago, his body weight was just 50kg. I put him through some routine physical ability tests and he did better than the elite lifters.”

Sharma feels Jeremy will be one of the top contenders for a medal in the 2024 Olympics. “If there is one Indian athlete who can win a medal in the 2024 Olympics, it is Jeremy. He has to shift to 67kg. He needs some time to settle down in that weight. For the 2020 Olympics, he can qualify and do well. He will be a fully grown man and will be in the best shape for 2024.”

Jeremy, too, is optimistic. “I was delighted to win the Youth Olympics. I got a grand reception on my return to Mizoram. People called me a star, but I told them I am a normal boy.

“Now, I want to make it a rare double by winning the gold medal in the Olympics as well. That’s my only ambition in life,” says Jeremy with a lot of conviction.

The next six years may see the making a new Indian Olympic champion.