Flashback to April-2018 and sleepy-eyed Indian sports lovers were regularly waking up to view Indian athletes dressed in flaming red one-piece suits quite periodically chewing some yellow metal and shedding some tears of joy in front of the Indian national flag after lifting hundreds of kilos of iron.
Yes, the reference here is to the Indian weightlifters who opened India’s Gold medal account at the Gold coast Commonwealth Games.
Mirabai Chanu, Sanjitha Chanu, Punam Yadav, Satish Sivalingam and Rahul Ragala did themselves and their motherland proud by winning their respective categories.
The weightlifters remained the cynosure of Indian eyes and stayed so till the wrestlers and Table Tennis stars took centre stage with their golden exploits.
Four months have proved to be a long time for Indian weightlifting with only Satish Sivalingam from the above 5 Gold medalists travelling to Jakarta.
Sanjitha Chanu seems to be snared in the doping net whereas the extremely talented Punam Yadav appears to be caught up in personal issues forcing her regular absence from the National camp.
Rahul Venkat Ragala has not yet recovered fully from injuries, and if his absence is a significant loss, then Mirabai Chanu’s lack is a catastrophe for Indian weightlifting and Indian Sport in General.
Lest this cricket-mad country forgets, the diminutive Manipuri is India’s only individual World Champion (2017) across all sports. The sooner her mysterious back injury heals, the better for India’s prospects at the November Worlds which also happen to be the first of Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.
A depleted squad.
Four lifters will represent Indian weightlifting at the Asian Games, comprising 3 Men and 1 Woman. Satish and Ajay Singh will compete at 77kg and CWG bronze medallist Vikas Thakur at 94 kg. Rakhi Halder will be the lone Indian hope at 63 kg.
Participating in the 77kg category, this soft-spoken athlete hailing from India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, (generally a hotbed for weightlifting along with Andhra Pradesh) Sathish Sivalingam is the most experienced of this small squad having represented India at 2 Commonwealth Games, Rio Olympics apart from multiple World Championships.
Sathish totalled 328 kg at the Anaheim World Championships, 2017 which ranked eleventh amongst the Asian lifters over the last year. The Chinese Yuan Chengfei topped the list with a total of 355kg.
The good news is Chengfei, Rejepov and Kim Woo Jae the top 3 last year have stayed away from Jakarta. The bad news Lyu Xiaojun is back to grace the 77 kg category.
Lyu is the London Olympic Champion, Rio Olympics Silver medallist and 3-time World Champion and rarely lifts below 370 kg unless he bombs out. No favours for Satish from Uzbekistan either, with Shakhzod Khudaberganov in the fray.
Sathish, who seems have recovered from his back and knee injuries will need to lift to break his national record of 339 kg to be anywhere near the podium. A very strong snatcher, Satish needs to raise the ante in the Clean and Jerk.
The ebullient Vikas Thakur, Bronze medallist from Gold Coast, has moved a weight category up at 94 kg.
With a new training routine and an increase in bodyweight Vikas finally broke the 330-340 kg barrier at the 2017 worlds, smashing national records in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, aggregating 351 kg.
Vikas continued his rich vein of form at Gold Coast by matching his performance at the Anaheim Worlds en route to a bronze medal.
The Iranian Sohrab Moradi has dominated this weight category. The reigning World and Olympic Champion lifts in the range of 400-417 kg, and frankly, the chasing pack is left with no choice but fight for minor medals.
Leading the chasing pack is the Uzbek Farhodbek Sobirov with a personal best of 391 kg. Throw in Sampradit of Thailand and medals are a far cry for Vikas. But trust Thakur to throw every ounce of his weight in moving the iron.
The third Indian in the fray is the 20-year-old Ajay Singh who is the reigning national champion in the 77kg category besting Satish Sivalingam at last year nationals with a personal best of 326 kg. Ajay’s only claim to international fame is the SAF Games Gold in early 2016 earned with a lift of 305 kg.
The dark horse of the Indian squad could well be Rakhi Halder the current national champion at 63 kg with an enormous lift of 230 kg.
Rakhi equalled Malleshwari’s national record on total basis but broke the legend’s Clean and Jerk record by 1 kg. One of the mysteries of Indian sport this year was her non-participation the Commonwealth Games.
Rakhi faces very tough competition from the Chinese, Taipei and Thai weightlifters though, but the national coach seems to have a fair amount of confidence in her.
Vijay Sharma was expecting more than a medal from his wards, but that was when Mirabai was in the scheme of things. Hoping for medals from the men would be more than optimistic.
Looking at numbers Rakhi may surprise on the positive side of things, but she needs to overcome the fear of the big stage.
A few personal bests and national records may show Indian weightlifting progressing on the right track under the venerable Vijay Sharma.