On Sunday in Birmingham, Jeremy Lalrinnunga, the 19-year-old weightlifter from Assam, put up a scintillating display to win India’s second gold medal in the Commonwealth Games 2022. Lalrinnunga dominated the proceedings from the word go, and finished it with a record-breaking combined lift of 300kg.
He lifted 140kg in the snatch category, and 160kg in his final clean and jerk attempt. But the gold was ensured only after Vaipava Loane stumbled while attempting for 174kg in the clean and jerk category.
Later on, during the medal ceremony, Loane took off a red-coloured garland, which holds special significance in the Samoan culture, and put it around Lalrinnunga’s neck. It was a special moment for Lalrinugga, whose career, it felt, has reached an impasse ever since he became the first Indian to win gold in Youth Olympics.
Lalrinnunga comes from a sporting family. His father, Lalneihtluanga, was a renowned boxer in Mizoram but had to sacrifice his boxing career due to financial hurdles. Growing up, Lalrinnunga wanted to follow his father’s footsteps but was too good for his age in weightlifting, which he practiced at the state academy using bamboo sticks and water pipes.
On his left arm, Lalrinnunga has a detailed tattoo of a boxer who is carrying the weightlifter on his head. Just above it, you’ll find the date Nov 11, 2011 – the day he started weightlifting – in Roman numerals.
“This story behind this tattoo is that my father used to be a boxer and I am a weightlifter. This tattoo shows just that,” said Jeremy after his match.
At the age of 12, he was drafted by Army Sports Institute (ASI), after some of its representatives noticed Lalrinnunga’s talent. It was in 2012 that he started practicing weightlifting under professional guidance at ASI. Six years later, he justified the investments by bagging gold in the Youth Summer Olympics in Argentina in the 62kg category.
A year later, Larinnunga, who is also the national record holder, won silver at Asian Weightlifting Championships. In the World Championships, he finished 21st in the 67kg category.
It was not an easy ride for Lalrinnunga, who had to battle multiple injuries and cramps on the way to his first CWG gold. In his very first clean and jerk lift of 154kg, he ended up injuring his right leg. Even during his warm-ups, he could feel the muscle cramps, and just prated that it doesn’t get worse in the main event.
“You know, I wasn’t able to walk for a while,” he told TOI, “I have lifted better previously. The warm-ups were good but after a point my thigh muscle began to cramp. I was expecting to perform better in the clean and jerk.”
But Lalrinnunga endured the pain and set up a snatch record of 140 kg in his second attempt.
The next logical step for Lalrinnunga is Olympics 2024, set to be staged in Paris. But there’s a lot of ground to be covered yet, as his best record at CWG Games would barely earn him a qualification in the Olympics. In the Tokyo Olympics, the best clean and jerk record Pak Jong-ju, who lifted 188kg – 28kg more than what Lalrinnunga did in Birmingham. Similarly, the record for the combined total belonged to the gold medallist Chen Lijub (339 kg).
But Lalrinnunga has age on his side. Provided he manages to remain injury free for the next couple of years – which is a very big challenge for him – Larinnunga may throw up some surprises there.
“As athletes, we can’t focus on injuries. They keep happening. Our job is to focus on rehab, and do our best. I did that,” he said.
Featured Image Credit: Jeremy Lalrinnunga/Twitter