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Mirabai Chanu breaches 'Great Wall of China'

Mirabai Chanu's silver medal at the World Championships is special because this is the first time she has registered a better total lift than one of the Chinese weightlifters.

Mirabai Chanu breaches Great Wall of China

Mirabai Chanu on the 2022 World Championships podium on Tuesday night (Screenshot)


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 7 Dec 2022 5:15 PM GMT

When sections of the Indian media had reported close on the heels of Mirabai Chanu's silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics that the Chinese gold medallist could be stripped of her medal, the Indian weightlifter had not paid any attention to the noise. But on Tuesday at the World Championships, Mirabai breached the Chinese wall for the first time.

"Back in 2021, winning the silver medal at the Olympics itself was a huge deal for me. I saw some of the reports against Hou Zhihui, but I didn't believe them, I knew her to be a top class lifter. It didn't cross my mind that I could have deserved the gold medal ahead of her," Mirabai told the Bridge.

Mirabai has been the leading weightlifter in the 49kg women's category for the last few years - with the exception of the Chinese lifters. Like the 'Great Wall of China' had proved to be an impassable barrier for Eurasian invaders in ancient history, Mirabai had failed to breach the Chinese domination spearheaded by Olympic champion Hou Zhihui and world champion Jiang Hui Hua.

Till Tuesday's World Championships, where Mirabai won the silver medal, ahead of Zhihui. The gold medal was won by Jiang.

"This win gives us belief that Mirabai can win the gold medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics. She did not exert herself here. The two Chinese lifters are world champions, but we believe they can also be beaten," India head coach Vijay Sharma said on Wednesday.

WATCH | How Mirabai Chanu showed true grit to perform spectacular snatch save

Mirabai's silver medal at the Worlds was special because this was the first time Mirabai had a better total lift than one of the Chinese. Usually, she falls behind both of them in the snatch section. Clean and jerk, Mirabai's stronger suit, is usually her unsuccessfully playing catch-up with Jiang and Zhihui.

Here's how Mirabai has fared against the Chinese in recent years:

Times Mirabai has defeated Chinese (Jiang Hui Hua/ Hou Zhihui)

2022 Worlds: Finished ahead of Zhihui (200kg to 198kg) in total, making this a first for Mirabai. Beat her in CJ (113kg to 109kg). Tied with Jiang for 113kg in CJ.

2020 Asian C'ships: Beat both Jiang (118kg) and Zhihui (117kg) in CJ with 119kg, but finished behind both of them in the total tally.

Times Mirabai lost to Chinese (Jiang Hui Hua/ Hou Zhihui)

2022 Worlds: Finished behind Jiang (200kg to 206kg)

2020 Olympics: Finished behind Zhihui (202kg to 210kg)

2020 Asian C'ships: Finished behind both Zhihui (213kg) and Jiang (207kg) with 205kg

2019 Worlds: Finished fourth behind Jiang (212kg) and Zhihui (211kg) with 201kg

2019 Asian C'ships: Fourth behind Huihua (208kg) and Zhang Rong (199kg) with 199kg. Beat Rong in CJ though.

Mirabai's biggest medal at the global level - the gold medal at the 2017 World Championships - was won in an edition when Chinese weightlifters were not present because the country had been banned for past doping violations.

Five years since then, it would seem Mirabai has progressed enough to be a genuine threat to the Chinese hegemony, figuratively standing between Jiang and Zhihui on the podium in Bogota on Tuesday. But there is a catch. Zhihui withdrew from her third clean and jerk lift because she did not want to over-exert herself either and was content with a bronze medal.

The 2023 Asian Games in China will provide the next chapter to this intriguing storyline of the diminutive Mirabai from Manipur taking on the might of the Chinese system.

"India have never won a weightlifting gold medal at the Asian Games. That is my next aim, I hope to beat the Chinese lifters there," said Mirabai.

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