Saikhom Mirabai Chanu: From Manipur to India's heart
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, 26, India’s maiden silver medalist in weight lifting, gifted India its first medal in Tokyo Olympics 2020. She lifted a total of 202 kg (87kg in snatch and 115kg in clean and jerk) during her four successful attempts across the competition. With this monumental feat, Chanu has become the second Indian weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari to win an Olympic medal in Olympics.
Chanu was born in Imphal, Manipur to a low-income family. Since childhood, the family was very well aware of the strength a young Chanu possessed. She was able to easily lift and carry a large bundle of firewood to her home when her elder brother found it hard to even pick it up. Growing up in such harsh conditions, made her strong, and fueled her ambition to be successful one day.
Still, she was a rough diamond, which needed to be chiselled by an expert hand, and in that quest, she visited the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre, at Khuman Lampak in Imphal, in early 2008. There, he met the former international weightlifter and coach Anita Chanu, who guided the young Manipuri into the path of weightlifting. She intended to find a career in archery, but with the turn of events, she eventually decided to pursue a career in weightlifting.
She first came to the limelight after she lifted 170kg to win a silver medal in the 2014 Commonwealth games. Slowly, she upped her game, progressing forward in the right direction. Meantime, she also managed to get a job as a Chief Ticket Inspector in the Indian Railways.
By the end of 2015, Chanu was tipped to be a top draw for India in the 2016 Rio Olympics. The media frenzy was there, the expectations were huge, and the amount of pressure was so huge for the young athlete to bear. At Rio, she failed to lift the weight in all her three attempts and had to bow down to her disappointment. Struggling to cope with her failure, she had to seek the help of a psychologist to help her back on track. She later stated in an interview that she even thought about retiring from the sport.
However, in 2017, she silenced her critics by winning gold in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championship. She also became the second woman to win gold in an IWF World Weightlifting Championship as she broke Malleswari’s record and set a new national record of 194 kg in the women’s 48kg category. She repeated the same feat in the 2018 Commonwealth Games by winning gold in the same weight category. After going through a rough patch in her career with injuries, she bounced back last year, with the help of Dr. Aaron Horschig, a former weightlifter.
Chanu, the successor of Karnam Malleswari, had to go through some tough tests in her life before she reached Tokyo. Now, she can keep aside her past, the memories of the Rio Olympics, and the pain her body had to bear for her she story to written into the history books, and into the hearts of 1.4 billion people in the country. Let, the silver shines bright as gold.