After winning India’s first medal in Tokyo and becoming the second weightlifter from the country to clinch an Olympic medal on Saturday, Shri Saikhom Mirabai Chanu could not find time to celebrate as she was busy accepting all the congratulatory messages pouring in from various quarters. Greatly relieved, she hit the bed around 2 am and slept soundly as it was a day of sweet redemption for the resilient Manipuri.
Ranked third in the world, Chanu lifted a total of 202 kgs to claim the silver medal in the women's 49kg category. Her silver is only the second Indian weightlifting medal since Karnam Malleswari's bronze at Sydney 2000.
Wearing that precious medal around her neck, Chanu is scheduled to land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi at 4.45 pm on Monday. After spending two days in the capital, she will return to her home in Mongkok Kakching village in Manipur on Wednesday.
Ahead of her return to India, the 26-year-old spoke to Manorama over the phone from Tokyo. Excerpts:
In Tokyo, you exorcised the ghosts of the 2016 Rio Games where you had failed to log a single legitimate lift. How did you turn things around?
I learned some invaluable lessons from the failure in Rio. I realised that I was not doing enough to get an Olympic medal. There are a lot of sacrifices involved when you aim to reach the top. I set a proper diet plan and avoided all other activities to keep my focus fully on training. I didn't even go home for many months. It involved about 6 hours of training in different sessions from morning to evening. Yoga was also a part of my routine workout regimen as maintaining good mental health is as important as being physically fit.
The Tokyo Games was postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Did it benefit you in some way?
My training was disrupted for about two months during the first nation-wide lockdown last year. Without doing any weight training, I spent the entire period inside my room at the national camp. Missing training matters a lot in weightlifting. If you miss workouts for a week, you will have to do it hard for two weeks in order to make up for lost time. To be honest, had the Games been held as per original schedule, I could not have attended it with confidence.
This is India's second Olympic medal in weightlifting. Do you think the sport deserves more recognition in the country?
I had said this before. In order to attract youngsters to the sport, the authorities need to make sincere efforts and initiate concrete measures. Conducting competitions is not enough. New steps too must be identified to inculcate awareness of physical fitness in youngsters. I believe my achievement will encourage more and more children to take up the discipline.
It seemed you were in pain while attempting your final clean and jerk lift...
Shoulder and back injuries had been troubling me over the last 2-3 years. However, I had fully recovered from a recurring shoulder injury before I went to Tokyo. The treatment I received in the US ahead of the Olympics was of great help. Though I have been suffering from some other physical issues, I'm glad that I could finish on the podium in Tokyo.
What are your future plans? Will you be there for the 2024 Olympics?
I believe I have only reached the half-way mark. I was hoping to win gold in Tokyo, but had to be content with a silver medal. I came very close to realising my dream. Hopefully, I will be able to do it in the next Olympics.