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Mirabai Chanu's memorable story of a comeback at the Tokyo Olympics

By winning the silver medal at Tokyo Olympics, Mirabai Chanu has taught us what a comeback in sports means

Mirabai Chanu (Source: getty)

Mirabai Chanu won the silver medal in Women's Weightlifting at the Tokyo Olympics (Source Getty Images)



Updated: 24 July 2021 1:44 PM GMT

Comeback strains the toughest of wills. But genuflects when the person in question is Mirabai Chanu. In the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, everything associated with staging a comeback -- from challenges unforeseen to situations unexpected -- bowed to the resilience and perseverance of the Indian weightlifter.

Tougher than the toughest, she called winning the silver medal in the 49kg category in Tokyo "a dream come true", but to realize it, Chanu had to overcome one obstacle after another, day after day. Chanu opened the country's account with a silver in the women's 49 kg category at the Tokyo Games, finally exorcising the ghosts of her disastrous outing in the Rio Games five years ago.

For the former world champion, this was the one medal she has been desperately waiting for. Things weren't always so hunky-dory for the 26-year-old, who has now become the toast of an entire nation.

But before that, Chanu had to beat poverty, scale obstacles to reach here. Born to a poor family in Nongpok Kakching village about 20 kilometres from Imphal, Chanu is the youngest among six siblings. Her childhood was spent cutting and collecting wood from the nearby hills, bringing it up by herself, and fetching water from nearby ponds in milk powder cans.

Such was her strength that one day when her elder brother was unable to lift the firewood, to his amazement, a 12-year-old Chanu swiftly took the pile from him and carried it for two kilometres. Chanu had decided early in life that she wanted to get into sports. Her obsession with being neat and tidy almost drove her to be an archer.

But in a twist of fate the day she went to visit the archery centre, it was closed, and instead, she got to witness some weightlifters train. Reading about Indian weightlifting legend Kunjarani Devi, who also hailed from Manipuri, and her exploits in the international arena also influenced Chanu to take up weightlifting. However, the journey was fraught with obstacles.

Her parents were hardly able to support her due to the financial crisis. Additionally, Chanu had to toil hard at that young age to adjust her training to her school schedule. She changed her bus twice to reach her training centre which was 22kms from her village.

She would carry a bamboo trunk, which was used as barbells, along with for training, something that she built herself.

She won her first national medal in 2009. She quickly rose the ranks and grabbed the silver in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Touted as a favourite to win a medal in the 2016 Rio Games, a then 21-year-old Chanu was left heartbroken after she failed all her three clean and jerk attempts, which meant she could not log in a total.

Not someone to back down, the stubborn Manipuri redeemed herself a year later, winning the 2017 World Championship to become the first Indian weightlifter in over two decades to claim a gold at the marquee event. A few months later she has crowned the 2018 Commonwealth Games champion, stamping her authority in the international arena. Her achievements didn't come without sacrifice.

Staying away from her family is a regular feat for Chanu. But to participate in the world championship, she also had to miss her sister's wedding. Chanu, who trains in NIS Patiala is very attached to her family, and regularly posts pictures of them on her Whatsapp status.

Her professional journey has been somewhat of a rollercoaster. After the back-to-back golds, the Khel Ratna awardee was struck by a mysterious back problem, which marred her progress in 2018 and also led her to miss the Asian Games that year.

The issue left doctors flabbergasted, as none of them could derive the cause of her pain in the lower back. The injury still remains a mystery. It was only after a year that Chanu was able to resume training and she was back in the game. The Indian came agonizingly close to a podium finish in the 2019 Asian and world championships.

Determined to get the coveted Olympic medal, Chanu kept improving herself and not even the postponement of the Tokyo Games and the global coronavirus-enforced lockdown could bring her down.

That's Mirabai Chanu for you.

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