Mirabai Chanu’s weightlifting silver medal in the 49 kg category at Tokyo 2020 was a rare Olympic triumph. Disregarding the weight of expectations on her shoulders, ignoring the chasing pack of champion lifters, Mirabai serenely soared to a height occupied by only a handful of Indians.
The gold medal winner, China’s Hou Zhihui, was a cut above the rest but Mirabai was the clear second. Unlike a majority of India’s other Tokyo 2020 medal prospects who froze close to the finish, Mirabai wasn’t just good on paper or among the favourites in the form book. She was great on the day it mattered the most. A day before the event, Mirabai’s coach Vijay Sharma had put in place a plan that would factor in his ward’s strength and the opposition.
The gloriously gifted lifter has always been talented, but had faced an enormous setback in her first Olympics followed by periods of debilitating depression, stage fright and self-doubt. After fluffing three lifts at the last Olympics in Rio, Mirabai endured five silent years of quietly putting together a technique which would get her the Tokyo medal. This involved putting her head down, clenching her fists around the lifting bar and seeking immaculate balance preparing for the spotlight. She would barely go home — spending months on end in training camps. And she would deny herself the pizza she loved. She would bring to the fore the Manipuri athlete’s determination to hold steady onto a sporting dream, without seeking constant validation for her capability. The soft-spoken lifter was rarely seen or heard in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games. She was sweating it out in the company of weights, preparing to do the heavy lifting for a nation on edge.
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