Jeremy Lalrinnunga’s iron grip on Youth Olympics history

“I have been told that the journey to Buenos Aires will be split into a seven hour flight, a layover and then a sixteen-hour flight. Then I’ll be in Argentina for 20 days. This will be my longest trip. I’m wondering what to pack and what to leave out,” Jeremy Lalrinnunga told The Bridge before setting out to participate in the ongoing Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

The 15-year-old seemed to be more in awe of the prospect of visiting a foreign land than at representing his country on the Olympic stage. Like any 15-year-old could be.

But Jeremy is not just any teenager. Going by the statistics the lad from Aizawl has racked up, it would be a safe bet to say we have a weightlifter in our midst worthy of the oft-misused tag — ‘world-class’.

No Indian has ever won gold at the YOG, but that might change come Monday. Jeremy’s personal best total lift (snatch+clean and jerk) of 273 kg, which he achieved at NIS Patiala last month, keeps him well ahead of the rest of the 62 kg field at the YOG.

Other than Mirabai Chanu over the last year, this is an exceptional instance of an Indian pre-event favourite in a sport where Indians have traditionally never been in contention at world events.

The 15-year-old’s lifts are good enough to give the best senior Indian lifters a run for their money as well. Jeremy’s personal best would have placed him 11th at the 2016 Olympics — which was incidentally the exact rank achieved by Sathish Sivalingam in Rio. To provide even more perspective on the significance of Jeremy’s numbers, Gururaja Poojary (56 kg category) lifted a total of 249 kg to clinch the silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Jeremy, who till very recently used to compete in the 56 kg category, lifted 250 kg at the 2018 Asian Youth and Junior Championships about two weeks later.

Jeremy said, “My lifts might already be good enough to compete with seniors, but that does not mean much to me. I want to keep raising the bar till I win a senior Olympic medal.”

If there was any doubt The Bridge was talking to somebody born to win, he added, “2020. 2024. 2028. All three are in my target.”

Jeremy best youth weightlifter I have seen: Vijay Sharma

All coaches who work with Jeremy echo his quiet confidence. Dronacharya Award winner and India head coach Vijay Sharma, who has been at the helm of our weightlifting fortunes for the last four years, expressed confidence that a YOG gold medal is all but won. “Jeremy is the best youth weightlifter I have seen. Seeing his potential, we have been training him along with the seniors at the Patiala camp for the last three years.”

Malsawma Khiangte, the Aizawl-based coach who taught Jeremy the ropes of weightlifting using water pipes more than seven years ago, also said he is confident Jeremy will win a historic medal at the YOG. “What makes Jeremy special is that his back and shoulders are exceptionally strong for his age. If he does not miss his attempts on Monday, there is a good chance of gold or silver,” he said.

Khiangte has known Jeremy since 2011, when the erstwhile budding boxer of eight had turned up at his academy.

Jeremy said, “My father Lalneihtluanga was a national level boxer. When he used to train at the gym, I used to accompany him. I have learned the principles of sports from him. One day I heard that an ex-player was training kids in weightlifting near my house. I thought I would try my hand at this strength sport instead of boxing.”

Jeremy confessed the first time he thought of sports as something as more than just fun was when he left home and shifted to the Army Sports Institute in Pune in 2012, following Khiangte’s bidding.

Khiangte, recalling a particularly golden batch — the first from his academy — said, “Five of my boys gave trials to get into the Army Sports Institute in 2012. Three of them were selected. Jeremy, Jacob (Vanlaltluanga), Zakhuma, all three are boys who came to me from the nearby government complex, all three are now international medallists.”

Chicken pox dealbreaker in shifting weight category: Jeremy

Jeremy said he has grown into a life of shuffling between Pune and the senior camp in Punjab, and has accepted the fact that even his annual visit home on Christmas might have to be cancelled if training for a tournament coincides. “What I miss most about home is the view of mountains I had from my room. I keep talking to folk back home over phone, my mother keeps saying she misses me,” he said.

Admitting he does have a few fans back home now, Jeremy said, “When I go back home these days, there is a crowd to greet me at the airport. Last time there were so many faces I did not know, they had just turned up.”

Jeremy’s personal best before he lifted 273 kg in August was 250 kg, achieved in April. Explaining the massive jump of 23 kg, Jeremy said, “I gave it my maximum to lift 273 kg last month. I have actually been struggling to keep my body weight down to 56 kg for the last year or so. Even in May, Vijay (Sharma) sir was asking me if I could keep it down to 56 kg till the YOG, I was also in two minds. Then I went down with chicken pox, which sort of turned into a dealbreaker. I started training doubly hard since recovering and finally got permission to build myself up for the 62 kg category.”

With his shift to a higher weight category, we might be seeing the beginning of a new phase in Jeremy’s career. When the time comes for him on Monday to enter the arena and he rubs his hands with Argentine chalk, we can hope for a double bonanza — a historic first YOG gold medal and yet another improvement to the personal best of one of the most promising sportsmen to have dawned on the Indian horizon.