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Weightlifting

Sindhu in 2016, Mirabai in 2021 - India's only female silver medallists in Olympics

PV Sindhu and Mirabai Chanu are the only two female Olympic silver medallists for India

Sindhu in 2016, Mirabai in 2021 - Indias only female silver medallists in Olympics
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By

Ananth Narasimman

Updated: 24 July 2021 11:24 AM GMT

1.2 Billion eyeballs were on the Riocentro Pavilion 4 at Rio De Janeiro as Pusarla Venkata Sindhu looked to make history and become the first Indian Women to win the Gold for her country. She was up against the odds while facing legendary Spanish Badminton player Carolina Marin, who was ranked world number 1. Sindhu got off to a blistering start in the first game with a flurry of shots that put pressure on the Spaniard, she eventually managed to win it by a close margin of 21-19.

Marin came roaring back in the second game, and despite Sindhu's effort to increase her lead, she levelled the match with one game apiece by taking the second game 21-12. The humble star from Hyderabad would not take defeat too kindly though and would go on to give it her all, making it one of the most exciting competitions in a long time. The final game turned out to be a more closely contested one with Sindhu not making life easy for the champ and giving her a run for her money. Unfortunately for India and Sindhu, she ended up losing the game 21-15 but won the hearts of people both around the world and back home.
"Carolina was playing so well in the second. I was just like 'let's play', but even then I didn't leave it like that and put in a lot of effort. I never gave up till the very end, I came back from 16-19 to win five straight points to win the first game. So, it was always playing in my mind that anything could still happen," reports DNA.
Her historic run at the Rio Olympics inspired the nation and youngsters around the world to take up sports with the aim of becoming like her at some point.
Fast forward to five years later, history was rewritten by yet another 26-year old, who against all odds managed to bring back home what would be India's first medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Saikhom Mirabai
Chanu
lived up to immense expectations placed on her by comfortably winning the silver while giving the eventual champion one of her toughest fights.
The Manipuri ace took it to China's Hou Zhihui, who set two Olympic records back to back in the same event. After her disappointment at the Rio Olympics, this was the perfect chance for redemption and Mirabai took the opportunity in her stride and put a dominating performance that would be remembered for ages.
The number two has a large significance in the blossoming careers of the two different individuals, with two different stories, winning at two different Olympics with one common goal though. The journey to silver might have been really hard but this would be a trampoline that they could use to jump on to gun for gold next with both being only 26.
Sindhu's experience at the 2016 Olympics was life-changing as she went into the tournament a relatively unknown quantity at the international stage and came out as an Olympic medal winner. That narrative was a dream come true for the Hyderabad native as she overcame the odds and helped turn Indian Badminton into the powerhouse that we see today. Sindhu is on a mission to land upon the podium once again, only this time she hopes it's the first position.
Going into the Tokyo Olympics Sindhu said, "There is definitely a lot of expectation. There are a lot more responsibilities and definitely, there will be pressure. I'm sure a lot of people are going to look for me because, even the last time in 2016 (Rio), I was not a known person. But I think now people are looking at me and knowing my game. I think it's comparatively tough and it's not going to be easy," reports Sports Today.
"Back in 2016, it was a different atmosphere. I didn't know anything about the feel of competing at the Olympics. Now, responsibilities are a lot more, but in Tokyo, I just want to go out there and give my 100 per cent. There will be expectations, yes, but I have to focus on my game. I want to keep it a surprise, but yes, I have worked on a new shot in my game. To find it out, you have to wait till the Olympics."
Preparing for the Olympics in a pandemic, away from your family and with the mental pressure and fear that comes with the risk of contracting the virus has made the journey extra hard for the athletes. Athletes like Sindhu and Mirabai to their credit have figured out methods to keep them in top shape both physically and mentally hence giving them the best chance to compete.
"For almost ten months, we haven't had any tournaments. It was the first time I have spent so much time with family members. I made sure to stay positive because it was a really tough time. I think it was the right time to learn about new skills and techniques. Which really became useful to me, and it has helped me to improve my game," said Sindhu in an interview to Sports Today.
"Preparations are going on really well. Skill-wise and technique-wise, it has been on point. On the court, I am trying to make every shot as precise as I can. It has been really helpful. This is the longest I have been training. Otherwise, we never get this much time to train because of the tournaments," she added.
Mirabai's story is something out of the ordinary as she not only hails from a relatively unknown part of the country but also because she chose archery before settling on weightlifting.

"All my brothers and cousins play football, but they would come back home dirty after a day's play. I wanted to play a sport which is neat and clean. At first, I wanted to be an archer, as they are neat and clean and stylish," Mirabai had said in an interview with PTI.

The Manipuri ace took up the sport after being inspired by watching a game film on the legendary weightlifter Kunjarani Devi who hailed from the same state as her. She was later initiated into the sport by weightlifter Anita Chanu who was her coach during the early stages of her career.
"I come from a state in India which is very famous for Sports and kids are all inclined to pick some sport. My family identified that I had a lot of strength as I used to pick firewood easily compared to my brother. That was how I got introduced to weightlifting." Mirabai Chanu said to Khel Now.
Manipur has a longstanding tradition of producing legendary athletes such as MC Mary Kom, Kunjarani Devi and Sanjita Chanu, the latter of whom had high praise for Mirabai.
"I think she can bring home a medal because recently during the Asian Championship she performed really well. She lifted 119 this time her medal will certainly come in the Olympics," said Sanjita Chanu in an exclusive chat with
The Bridge.

She was right and Mirabai did indeed bring back a medal home but the journey to the silver was not that easy and had varying highs and lows throughout. The biggest blow came during the 2016 Olympics where Mirabai failed to live up to her own high standards leading to a massive disappointment.
"It was the most difficult period of my sporting career. Everyone had high expectations from me including myself. It was just not my day. Everyone helped me to remain focused and look forward to the upcoming competitions and keep working hard. They made me realise that I was young and had a long career ahead," she said when asked about her reaction.
"I kept thinking why I failed despite working so hard and was questioning myself. But after talking to a psychologist I understood that it was my first Olympics and the pressure got to me. Slowly, I was able to focus on training again," reports Scroll.
She came back to India with an added determination and sought out weightlifting legend Karnam Malleswari who was an Olympic medallist herself. Along with her advice and a renewed vigour, Mirabai set her sights on the Tokyo Olympics. The Asian Championship were her last hope for qualifying and that was not going too well until she dug in deep, found the determination and grit necessary to pull off a clutch win. Chanu herself describes the moment when she said, "I was competing after a year and there were some nerves because I had not trained as much in the lockdown and had covered my weight with great difficulty. Maybe because of the break I got nervous and was not able to do well in the snatch, except for the last chance. Then before the clean and jerk, I went in thinking why I failed in snatch and that I had to cover that weight in clean and jerk to win a medal. My coach [Vijay Sharma] also said that snatch is now done but there are other lifts left. So I tried my best there and I was able to lift a world record," reports, The Scroll.
The pandemic kept her extra focused as no one knew when things opened up, which also led to a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for athletes around the world.
Mirabai explained it perfectly when she said, "The Asian Championship was the last qualifying event and we were planning for that when the lockdown came in. I was wondering if I should even plan ahead and I didn't touch the weight for three-four months and there seemed to be no hope. But I had to train and keep my body muscles strong… I would tell myself that eventually, the Games will happen and not to get down, I would do whatever training I can in my room and watch my videos to stay motivated," reports The Scroll.

All that hard work, conditioning, sacrifices, sleepless nights, anxiety and counselling worked as she was able to put her best foot forward and land the silver for her country.

Their stories, struggles and sacrifices might have been different but one thing both Sindhu and Mirabai share in common is their determination and grit to persevere against all odds. This serves as an inspiration to not only future generations but also themselves to better themselves and be the best version possible. This will not be the first nor the last time you see these two on an Olympic podium.

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