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Khaana, sona aur practice: The motto that brought Mirabai Chanu her silver medal at Tokyo Olympics 2020

·4 min read

Tokyo: On an average competition day, Mirabai Chanu heaves barbells loaded with anywhere between 85 kgs and 110 kgs over her head.

But on Saturday, giddy with the adrenaline rush of making history, she was finding the 550-gram weight of the silver medal she had won at the Tokyo Olympics difficult to lift.

"Bahut bhaari hai yeh medal (This feels very heavy)," she giggled after winning India's first medal at Tokyo, in the 49kg women's weightlifting event.

She lifted 87kg in snatch and 115kg in clean and jerk to register a total of 202 kg. But her Chinese opponent, Zhihui Hou, who has set and reset the world record five times in the past three years, again showed that she was playing on a different level. Her total weight of 210kg (an Olympic record) was 8 kg over the silver medallist from India.

And while Mirabai's thoughts strayed for a moment on Saturday on the fact that she had missed out on a gold medal, even a silver is a good enough start to India's campaign at Tokyo 2020.

Mirabai's medal is India's second in the sport of weightlifting at the Olympics after Karnam Malleshwari's bronze 21 years ago in Sydney.

Her reward for an epoch-making medal? "I will finally go home," she said.

The journey to the silver has been one of monk-like discipline and dedication. Those who have seen her soldier on for the past five years say that the lifter has never been home for more than seven days in a week, even if it meant missing her sister's wedding.

On being asked when she last went home, Mirabai struggled to recollect it. She did video call her second family, her weightlifting peers like Jeremy Lalrinnunga, on Saturday after her event. She was greeted by unrestrained dancing on the other end of the video call.

"This medal is one that has come after immense sacrifices," said former India hockey captain Viren Rasquinha, who is now the Director and CEO of Olympic Gold Quest, which has been supporting her for many years now. "Mira is just a once-in-a-generation athlete. In all my life, I have never seen a more dedicated and disciplined athlete. Ideal athletes like Mira don't come around very often."

To illustrate his point, Rasquinha said that even when she would be injured, she would try and keep doing whatever she could to refine herself as a lifter.

"Khaana, sona aur practice. Aur koi kaam nahi kiya. (With an eye on the Olympics, all Mira did over the last few years is eat, sleep and train)," her coach Vijay Sharma told Firstpost. "In the last two years, she just went home for one seven-day stretch per year.

Yeh dedication hi toh hai (If this isn't dedication, what is?)" This medal did not come in one day."

Ghosts of Rio

They say weightlifters are never truly injury-free. Each time they step on to the lifting platform, there's a niggle or pain that they have to ignore and power through. On Saturday, Mirabai finally recuperated from a five-year-long throbbing heartache.

Going into Saturday's event, Mirabai was being hyped as a medal contender, a place she has been before at Rio 2016.

There, the pressure of the stage had got to her, making her fail to register even a single lift in three clean and jerk attempts. At every press conference she has been to since that day, she has been asked about that Rio Olympics failure.

She can finally shrug that overwhelming weight off her shoulders. The relief on her face was palpable as she first nailed her two snatch attempts and then her first two clean and jerk lifts. With a glint in her eyes, a giggle accompanying each answer and earrings fashioned like the Olympic rings, Mirabai seemed like she had left the past behind.

"I completely failed in 2016. But I learnt a lot from that defeat, what needs to be done to win at the Olympics, which areas I need to get better. I told myself that I need to do better at the next Games. That's why I have improved and won," said Mirabai.

"That Rio Olympics experience made her stronger and mentally tougher. Experience really is the best teacher," Rasquinha told Firstpost.

Also See: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar lead wishes as Mirabai Chanu opens India's haul with silver medal

Tokyo Olympics 2020: Mirabai Chanu clinches silver medal to open India's account at Games

Tokyo Olympics 2020 Highlights, Day 1: Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu wins silver; Netherlands thrash India 5-1 in women's hockey

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