Mirabai Chanu scripted history by being the first Indian female weightlifter to win a silver for India, holding her own against tough competition, losing only to China's eventual gold medallist Hou Zhihui who had an incredible run herself. Mirabai not only made her country beam with joy and pride but also achieved redemption for what she considered a massive disappointment at the Rio Olympics according to her extremely high standards. The mental fortitude and physical conditioning that she required to achieve the historic feat in Tokyo after dealing with a setback in Rio were developed over time with the help of various trained professionals. physio, mental conditioning coaches, trainers, and training camps abroad with advanced medical science facilities were all key in helping prepare Mirabai and getting her in peak condition, mentally and physically.
Hiring trainers, physios and other professionals along with being able to use world-class facilities in other countries is an expensive affair, and Mirabai repaid the faith and trust placed in her by bagging the silver. The government post the 2008 and 2012 Olympics sat down to understand why most Indian athletes could not win against the world's best despite having the talent levels and skills. Keeping in mind their findings, the government launched the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) program in September 2014 to identify premium talent and help hone them by giving them the necessary tools and exposure. The programme monitored by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports helps provide financial assistance to the top athletes of the country in the hopes that they would win medals at the Olympics. The TOPS Elite Athletes Identification Committee and a Mission Olympic Cell were handed the responsibility of identifying the crème of the crop.
The programme covers the athletes training at world-class facilities abroad, equipment, hiring physical trainers, sports psychologists, physiotherapists and mental conditioning coaches, and an incentive of Rs.50,000 per month to the athletes. Most athletes from countries such as the US, Japan and China have availed such benefits and facilities from the nascent stages of their career, giving them a head start over Indian athletes. The TOPS programme slowly aims at bridging that gap.
Mirabai Chanu is one of the TOPS' premium athletes and has shown the rewards that the program can reap. TOPS came as a blessing to athletes like Mirabai, who used to depend on the help of truck drivers to get to training as there were no bus services from her village. The kindness of the truck drivers also allowed her to grab a meal before training as they dropped her without charging. " Truck drivers transporting sand, stone and other construction material used to help me by giving me a lift to the training venue. The drivers would blow their horns from a distance away to inform me that they were nearby and that I should get ready. I could eat something during my training hours because they did not take a fare," said Ms Chanu, reports The Hindu.
TOPS sponsored Mirabai's injury rehabilitation in 2018 where expert physios were brought down, and an addition rehabilitation camp in St.Louis, USA, was set up, which helped her win and set a World record at the Asian games.
A weightlifting platform had been set up to help her train in her hometown during her time away from training camp, keeping her in peak conditioning. Another benefit was a pre-Olympic training camp with her team in the USA under the scheme, which was cleared within 06 hours, keeping in mind the COVID situation and travel restrictions at that point.
Overall the government invested Rs.1,49,58,879/- under the TOPS scheme over five years, which proved to be the right move as she delivered as expected.
Apart from the TOPS scheme, The Sports Authority of India, Annual Calendar for Training and Competitions proposal under the Scheme of Assistance to National Sports Federations helped sponsor her tournaments and events abroad with an amount of Rs.99,54,059. The total financial assistance required to help Mirabi win the silver came up to Rs.2,49,12,938.
Mirabai shined for our country at the grandest stage with her persistence, hard work and dedication, and was ably supported by the TOPS scheme and SAI proving that athletes can achieve wonders with the right support. India have done well in most sports considered as high priority such as Badminton, Boxing, Wrestling and Weightlifting proving that we are on the right track and with added support the country can materialize its Olympic dreams.