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Road to the Olympics: The status of Indian weightlifters at the end of first qualification period

Road to the Olympics: The status of Indian weightlifters at the end of first qualification period

Kapil Choudhary

Published: 8 May 2019 6:23 AM GMT

As explained in an earlier article, weightlifting qualification for Tokyo 2020 will depend on World Rankings. A total of 13 lifters will qualify in every category based on the rankings (with certain continental restrictions). However, only 1 lifter per country per category can qualify, and there are also other restrictions with respect to maximum number of lifters per country across all categories. For example, India is eligible to qualify a maximum of only 2 male lifters and 2 female lifters for Tokyo.

The World Rankings are divided into 3 distinct ranking periods, with the first ranking period having ended on Apr 30, 2019. So, at the end of this first period, here is how our lifters stack up.

The women listed in the above table are the only Indians to have met the requirement of having competed in at least 1 ranking event during the first period of Olympic Qualification. Thus, any woman lifter not listed in the above table is now ineligible for Tokyo.

As can be seen from the above table, Mirabai Chanu with a 49 kg category World Ranking of 5 is well placed to go to Tokyo. While she is ranked 5, three of the lifters above her are Chinese and only 1 of them can go to Tokyo. Thus, in essence, her qualification rank is actually 3.

Further, in terms of total weight lifted, Mirabai is 7th best at the moment, but besides the three Chinese above her, there are also two Thais who have both tested positive for doping. While the Thai doping cases are ongoing, the Thailand Weightlifting Federation (having had as many as 8 doping cases in the past few months) has already imposed a self-ban and voluntarily pulled out of Tokyo.Hence, not only is Mirabai well placed to qualify, but she is likely to be an extremely strong medal contender in Tokyo and is currently 3rd also according to the best total lifted, among the lifters eligible to compete at Tokyo.

Moving to other lifters, Swati Singh has a World Ranking of 21 in the 59 kg category. Thus, at first glance, she seems like a contender to qualify for Tokyo. However, her difficulty is that 33 lifters in her category have actually lifted a higher weight than her. This means that, while she currently has a decent ranking, it is inflated due of the fact that she has already competed in 2 ranking events, while about a dozen lifters who are currently better than her have competed in only 1 ranking event. By the time Tokyo qualification ends, these lifters would be expected to have competed in the requisite number of events and thus would probably overtake Swati in the rankings.

Based on current performance, the only lifter realistically capable of claiming that 2nd Indian female spot in Tokyo is Rakhi Halder. She is currently on the edges of qualification with a World Ranking of 20 in the 64 kg category. Like Swati, Rakhi has also competed in 2 ranking events and thus there are a few lifters below her in the rankings who have actually lifted more weight than her, making her the 26th best in terms of weight lifted. However, when the 1 lifter per country restriction is applied, lifters from only 16 countries have lifted higher than Rakhi so far (the corresponding number for Swati is 26). Further, add in the fact that there are strong restrictions on the total number of lifters per country in Tokyo (explained here), and Rakhi seems to have a pretty decent shot at making that flight to Japan, even though she may be currently just on the outside looking in.

The above table also shows that young Jhilli Dalabehera has a World Ranking of 15 in the 49 kg category, with 23 lifters having lifted a higher weight than her. In addition, she also has an excellent World Ranking of 4 in the non-Olympic 45 kg category (though it must be noted that many lifters who would otherwise compete in 45 kg have already moved to 49 kg on account of the Olympics). Thus, in the absence of Mirabai, she would have been a good contender to qualify, but with the 1 lifter per country restriction in place, she is now essentially a back-up for Mirabai in terms of Tokyo.

Unfortunately, the other lifters listed in the above table just don’t have the requisite performances and thus aren’t really in the qualification race.
Among the men, the only lifter with a realistic chance of going to Tokyo is the Youth Olympic Champion and Youth World Record holder, Jeremy Lalrinnunga. The 16-year-old has been showing rapid improvement and has increased his lifted total weight from 274 in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games (in the 62 kg category as opposed to 67kg), to 288 in February 2019’s EGAT’s Cup, to 297 in the Asian Championships in April. He is currently ranked 19 in his category and is 20th in terms of weight lifted, thus giving him a good shot at Tokyo. However, most of the lifters above him are from different countries, resulting in 15 Tokyo-eligible lifters still higher than him in the rankings. This puts him in a situation similar to Rakhi Halder, currently on the outside looking in but still with a decent shot. However, if he is able to maintain his high pace of his improvement, without needing to move to a higher category (as his body is still growing), he should be able to make it.
Jeremy had won the silver medal in the EGAT Cup earlier this year.

Beyond Jeremy, none of the other men seem to have a shot. Lifters like Ajay Singh, Vikas Thakur, Achinta Sheuli and Gurdeep Singh all haveWorld Rankings in the 20s but these rankings are inflated, as can be seen from the number of lifters having lifted higher weights than them. Also, in terms of rankings, one of India’s best known lifters Sathish Sivalingam is placed very low. This is because Sathish has been suffering from injuries and thus was able to put in only a token performance in the entire first ranking period, lifting a total of 200kg at the EGAT’s Cup as opposed to his personal best of 329 kg (and his best had come in the older 77 kg category as opposed to the newer 81 kg category). However, even his personal best of 329 would have placed him only 38th in terms of weight lifted and thus qualification would have been very difficult for him, even at his best. Now, with his total of 200 assured of being counted in the rankings, his Tokyo dream seems well and truly over.

In conclusion, Mirabai Chanu should be going to Tokyo and is likely to be a medal favourite. Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Rakhi Halder have both got a decent chance to make the trip, especially Jeremy if he can continue to improve at a high pace. Jhilli Dalabehera may act as a back-up for Mirabai, if required (as a qualifier but not yet as a medal contender). The others, however, seem more or less out of contention.

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