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Mirabai Chanu and a single-minded journey to the Olympic Games silver medal

Mirabai Chanu and a single-minded journey to the Olympic Games silver medal

After achieving on Saturday what only one other Indian woman before her had done in the history of Olympic Games, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu had a few simple wishes. A little celebration. A slice of pizza. She loves pizza.

She has hardly been home in the last five years and the mention of her mother lights up her face during an interaction with the media. Brighter than the silver medal she has around her neck.

The smile is still there. The joy of winning India’s second silver in history by a female athlete. The relief of ending a 21-year wait for a second weightlifting medal. The lifting of the weight, first in the literal sense and then the metaphoric one. The smile has been there through all of it.

Simple desires and smiles on a sensational Saturday, at the end of years and years of hard work.

Simplicity and smiles were exactly what was missing at the end of her campaign in Rio de Janeiro. Her Olympic Games debut did not go per plan. The pressure of the first Games is understandable, it is to be expected. She was seen as a possible medal prospect. If she had achieved her personal best, she would have likely been on the podium. It was less than two days before her 22nd birthday. As a 21-year-old, she stepped onto the stage, managed to clear the Snatch section in the sixth position, but what followed was three excruciating attempts in the Clean and Jerk. 104kg, did not happen. 106kg, did not happen. 106kg again… tears followed. It was not simple. There wasn’t much joy.

“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,” Chanu said before leaving for USA training stint in the lead-up to Tokyo Olympics. She had been left completely broken that day in Rio.

Miarabai Chanu since Rio Olympics

Event Rank Category Snatch C&J Total
2021 Tokyo 2020 2 49 kg 87 115 202
2021 Asian C’ships 3 49 kg 86 119 205
2019 6th Qatar International Cup 1 49 kg 83 111 194
2019 IWF Worlds 4 49 kg 87 114 201
2019 Commonwealth C’ships 1 49 kg 84 107 191
2019 Asian C’ships 4 49 kg 86 113 199
2019 EGAT’s Cup 1 49 kg 82 110 192
2018 CWG 1 48 kg 86 110 196
2017 IWF Worlds 1 48 kg 85 109 194
2017 Commonwealth C’ships 1 48 kg 85 104 189
2016 Rio 2016 48 kg 82

The changes had to happen. Part of the journey is dealing with failure. Why do we fall, after all?

So Chanu and her team took what caused her downfall and made it her strength. She failed to lift three times in Clean & Jerk in Rio? Yes, turn that around.

Fast forward to Tokyo, she came in as the world record holder: a sensational 119kg she had set at the Asian Championships earlier this year.

So, here we were on Saturday, five years from Rio, hopeful in the knowlegde that, if she could get the Snatch lifts right early, a medal is almost a guarantee.

Now, roll back a little. To April. At the Asian Championships in Tashkent, the venue where she would set the world record. But that almost did not happen. She almost did not even make it that far. Two missed attempts in the Snatch and she had to get the third one right. She did just about. Smiles.

At the Tokyo Olympics, she had to start well. It sounds simple. It is not. An 84kg attempt was listed as her first. The commentator said, “this is her second Olympic appearance. Let’s not talk about the first now.” Easy to say, eh? Surely it would have been on her mind. Positive thoughts.

She stepped up… and the back arched. Not a good sign. But she steadied herself in a moment gathering all her upper body strength. It is the Olympics, of course there will be hiccups. And in an instant, she managed to complete 84kg. It was not her best effort on the day but it was the most important. Who knows what would have happened if the first attempt had a little red next to it.

Two successful Snatch attempts, with 84kg and 87kg. The 89kg did not pan out, but the major step towards the medal had been achieved.

Now, she stepped forward for the second half. Hello old foe, Clean and Jerk.

Her first attempt was already higher than the highest she had attempted in Rio. The process had brought her to this point. The process would carry her through. In fact, all she needed was one good Clean and Jerk score and a medal was hers.

110kg. Check.

The second attempt would be 115kg and one more than the Olympic Record that had just been set by China’s Hou Zhihui. For a few moments, the Olympic Record would be against the Indian’s name as she completed the attempt and dropped the barbell like it was a mic drop.

Silver medal. Guaranteed.

The gold medal would have required something impossible from her at that point so she went for just the Olympic Record again in the final attempt. The old foe would defeat her briefly, but the victory would not be denied.

“Dream come true,” she would tweet in some time.

The silver medal is a just reward for a journey that has all been about working hard for Chanu. Those who know her well, say she is the “dream athlete” to work with. Hard work comes naturally. Hard work is all it is about for her. A single-minded focus to do well. “I have been home for five days in the last five years and all because I wanted to take this medal home. Now I want to eat food cooked by my mother,” she said on Saturday.

Another smile. Another simple desire. One that meant the world.

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