Mirabai Chanu wins a silver medal on the first of day the Tokyo Olympics, as her efforts open India’s medal tally.

Mirabai Chanu opened India’s medal tally by winning a silver in women’s 49kg weightlifting. The 26-year-old lifted an aggregate of 202kg (87kg+115kg), turning into the second weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari (2000 Sydney Olympics) to win a decoration at the Games. The gold was won by China’s Hou Zhihui with an effort of 210kg (94kg+116kg), and the bronze by Indonesia’s Aisah Windy Cantika with an effort of 194kg (84kg+110kg). The Manipur weightlifter delivered her promise and wins a medal as she can finally bury the ghosts of the Rio Olympics 2016. 

Mirabai’s account is not about a reckless talent, but someone who went after her interests at an ideal time. A fixation on being flawless and clean nearly drove her to be an archer. “All my brothers and cousins play football, but they would come back home dirty after a day’s play. I wanted to play a sport that is neat and clean. At first, I wanted to be an archer, as they are neat and clean and stylish,” Mirabai had said in an interview with PTI.   

Coming from a low-income family, Mirabai at the tender age of 13, decided that she would earn her fame as a sportsperson. In her search for a sports facility, she travelled with her cousin to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre at Imphal in early 2008. Fortunately, she did not find any archer training that day, what she saw were clippings of the famous Manipuri weightlifter Kunjarani Devi, which inspired her to the core. Thus, following a couple of days, she went to the weightlifting training centre, and fortunately met previous global weightlifter and mentor Anita Chanu, and she encouraged Mirabai to take up weightlifting.  

Mirabai, who found a new line of work as a Chief Ticket Inspector in the Indian Railways, turned into an A-list weightlifter consistently. She lifted 170kg to win a silver in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and then came back to win gold in 186 kg at the 2016 Senior Nationals after a baffling show at the Rio Olympics.  

Chanu’s comeback since the Rio Olympics debacle has been a remarkable one. She first silenced her haters by winning the gold in the 2017 World Championships and a year later in the Commonwealth Games. She also came back from an unknown back problem, because of which she switched to 49kg from her original 48kg. She came back in February last year, and competed in various competitions before the pandemic. 

Nonetheless, her body was weakened with injuries. Last year, her coach Vijay Sharma took her to Chanu to St. Louis, USA to recuperate under Dr. Aaron Horschig, a former weightlifter and a reputed physiotherapist, who has worked with MLB and NFL players and Olympic weightlifters. Horschig showed the path to recoup, which reflected in her performance at the Asian Championships this year, where she created a world record of perfect clean and jerk of 119kg.  

An Olympic medal places Mirabai in the Indian games’ Hall of Fame and at the highest levels of weightlifting, achieved by none so far.