Mirabai Chanu and Jeremy Lalrinnunga lead Indian weightlifting to new heights

The quadrennial extravaganza that goes by the name Commonwealth Games is an event Indian fans look forward to, as the world’s second most populous country is a dominant force in multiple events.

Weightlifting is one of them.

India had all the more reason to look forward to the Gold Coast edition, as we had a world champion amongst her ranks.

And that World Champion, answering to the name Mirabai Chanu did not disappoint as the pocket dynamo simply dominated the competition to open India’s weightlifting gold medal haul.

Commonwealth records were blown away almost every time she propelled the weight overhead. Her winning margin of 26 kg over the silver medallist was the widest in the history of the Games.

Unfortunately, a mysterious back illness kept Mirabai away from the tougher Asian Games and the subsequent World Championships. To say that India missed Mirabai at both these events would be the sporting understatement of the year, at least from an Indian point of view.

With the Olympic cycle starting with the Asian Championships in April 2019, Vijay Sharma will have his hands full managing India’s greatest weightlifting medal hope’s workload.

Going by the numbers at the 2018 World Championships, the diminutive Manipuri will have to be at her best to land on the podium at Tokyo.

Sanjita Chanu, Sathish Sivalingam, Vikas Thakur, and Punam Yadav followed Mirabai’s footsteps to land 4 more gold medals for India. Of course, the margin of victories were not as comprehensive making these 4 victories all the more sweeter. Sathish and Ragala had entered the competition not having fully recovered from hamstring and back injuries respectively.

Call it the brutality of international sport or whatever, but what followed the weightlifting highs of April 2018, was pretty depressing though not entirely unexpected in the strongest of Olympic sports.

Venkata Ragala’s back injury flared up, Punam Yadav was embroiled in family issues forcing her to regularly miss the National camp leading to disciplinary issues and the worst news of all was the dope scandal surrounding Sanjitha Chanu.

All three missed the Jakarta Asian Games and the opportunity to build momentum generated by the success at the Commonwealth Games came crashing down.

Sathish Sivalingam lifted way below his best at Jakarta to finish eighth and worst of all injured himself on his penultimate lift.

The depleted four-member Indian squad suffered further heartburn, with Rakhi Halder failing to clear any of her 3 snatches, quite unexpected from the national record in the 63 kg category.

The current national champion at 63 kg, Rakhi had equaled Malleshwari’s national record on a total basis but broke the senior legend’s Clean and Jerk record by 1 kg at the 2017 National Weightlifting Championships. Clearly, nerves got the better of her at Jakarta.

The one bright spot for India’s weightlifting squad was young Ajay Singh whose only claim to international fame is the SAF Games Gold in early 2016 earned with a lift of 305 kg. Singh, competing alongside Sathish at 77kg, betrayed no nerves as he dished out his personal best of 327kg to finish 5th in an above average field.

If Mirabai Chanu ensured a brilliant rising start in 2018, then the young Beast from India’s East, Jeremy Lalrinnunga ensured that the setting sun was no less brilliant.

All of 15 years, Jeremy opened India’s account at the Youth Olympic Games with a brilliant gold, in the 62kg category.

His 274 kg total lift was well clear of the Silver medallist from Turkey by 11kg. In fact, such was his domination that the Indian had already won gold before his last clean and jerk lift. Still lifting in the junior ranks, Jeremy is just 1 kg of the senior Indian national record held by Rustam Sarang.

The 62 kg category is no longer part of the Olympic fold, requiring a move up to 67 kg category, which should help this growing lad. His duels at the national level with another teenage prodigy Deepak Lather (if the latter moves down to 67kg from current 69 kg) may drive both these boys to greater heights. The Asian Championships in April 2019, may be the first international tournament at 67kg for the Mizoram lad.

The last big Championships of the year, the Worlds in Turkmenistan came and went. But Achanta Sheuli (Men’s 73 kg) and Jhili Dalabehera (Women’s 49 kg) look extremely promising from an Indian point of view.

Participating in new weight categories thanks to the reshuffled weight classes, both recorded personal best by comfortable margins.

The crowning glory finally came when the Vijay Sharma won the Dronacharya award and the Khel Ratna was awarded to who else but Mirabai Chanu.

2019 promises some exciting fare with Indian eyes keenly following the probable return of Mirabai Chanu, as the slightly complicated Olympic qualifying cycle starts off.