Indian weightlifting: Jeremy Lalrinnunga, Mirabai Chanu make 2018 a year of success

It could well have been a perfect year for Indian weightlifting but for a dope case involving Sanjita Chanu that took some sheen away.

Historic moment: Jeremy Lalrinnunga won India’s first-ever gold in weightlifting in the Youth Olympics.   -  OIS/IOC

The shattering of records, the discovery of a star, and a best-ever medal haul at a marquee event — it could well have been a perfect year for Indian weightlifting but for a dope case that took some sheen away.

Sixteen-year-old Jeremy Lalrinnunga scripted history by clinching the Youth Olympic Games gold. Earlier in the year, the senior lifters produced India’s best ever Commonwealth Games performance. A below-par performance at the Asian Games was a blip but it was never expected to be otherwise.

Read | Lalrinnunga claims India's first Youth Olympics Gold

One of the stars in India’s Commonwealth Games campaign was Mirabai Chanu, who created a new record en route to a gold medal in the 48kg category.

‘Proud’

Lalrinnunga’s famous gold medal was in the men’s 62kg category at Buenos Aires. He lifted a total of 274kg (124kg +150kg), his personal best. Such was his supremacy that the silver medallist — Turkey’s Toptas Caner — finished 11 kgs behind him.

“I feel very proud that I was able to get the first gold medal for my country at the Youth Olympics. I worked really hard for it. We had heard about the youth Olympics in 2014 and I was working on it ever since,” Lalrinnunga told PTI. “It wasn’t easy for me to reach the Youth Olympics; there were a lot of problems. A couple of months before going, I got chicken pox. It was a struggle to recover from that. But the people around me — my coach and family members — really motivated me and I was able to compete. They instilled the confidence in me for which I am thankful. The senior lifters also inspired me,” Lalrinnunga reflected.

Purple patch

In April, 2018, the senior weightlifters set the ball rolling at Gold Coast with Mirabai’s record-smashing spree. This was after P. Gururaja opened India’s account with a silver medal. The 24-year-old Mirabai first smashed the Commonwealth and the Games record in the snatch category. The Manipuri then went on to lift more than double her body weight to claim the clean and jerk as well as the overall Games record.

Record-breaking spree: Mirabai Chanu celebrates her gold in the 48kg category in the Commonwealth Games. Photo: AP

 

Records continued to tumble, with Sanjita Chanu leaving competitors far behind. She claimed her second successive Commonwealth Games gold medal, obliterating the Games record with a total lift of 192kg (84kg+108kg).

Topping the charts

Indian weightlifters bagged a total of nine medals, including five golds, two silvers, and as many bronze. While Mirabai (48kg), Sanjita (53kg), Sathish Sivalingam (77kg), Venkat Rahul Ragala (85kg) and Punam Yadav (69kg) took home gold medals, Gururaja (56kg) and Pardeep Singh (105kg) fetched silver medals, and Vikas Thakur (94kg) and 18-year-old Deepak Lather (69kg) added a shade of bronze.

Read | Mirabai Chanu claims India's first gold of 21st Commonwealth Games

The tournament saw India topping the medals tally in the sport despite being let down by the system.

Due to the inability of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to submit the required documents on time, the lifters were devoid of the services of a full-time physiotherapist for the entire duration of the Games. Almost every member of the squad carried niggles of various degrees. This year’s Commonwealth Games performance was better than the 2014 Glasgow edition, where although India had won more medals (14) — three gold, five silver, and six bronze — Nigeria had topped the tally because of a higher gold count.

Setback

But controversy lurked in the form of the dreaded dope shame. Sanjita Chanu tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid and was provisionally suspended by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). The case took a dramatic turn when the IWF admitted to committing a mistake in providing the exact sample number of Sanjita in its report of her failed dope test. This prompted the embattled weightlifter to demand an inquiry.

Sanjita Chanu tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid. Photo: PTI

 

In the build-up to the Asian Games, a mysterious injury to star lifter Mirabai piqued everyone’s attention. Although there was an improvement in her condition, the Manipuri was not completely fit to compete at the continental event. The Asian Games was a stark contrast to the Commonwealth Games. The four-member team, sans Mirabai, put up a listless campaign at Jakarta.

Recognition

In the 77kg category, Ajay Singh finished a creditable fifth with a personal best effort while his senior compatriot Sathish suffered a thigh injury. Vikas finished eighth in the 94kg and Rakhi Halder failed to register even a single lift in the women’s 63kg category. It was also a landmark year for weightlifting as the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports rewarded the teacher-pupil duo of Vijay Sharma and Mirabai with the country’s highest sporting honours.

Read | Sanjita Chanu: 'I am innocent'

Mirabai shared the Khel Ratna with Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli. Sharma, the head coach of India, was presented with the Dronacharya award. “I am really delighted that my coach and I were recognised for our achievements. To get the award with Vijay sir is great,” Mirabai said.