Latest News on Saikhom Mirabai Chanu Biography, Profile, Photos and Videos Tokyo Olympics

By | July 19, 2021

Latest News on Saikhom Mirabai Chanu Biography, Profile, Photos and Videos Tokyo Olympics takes a quick look at star Indian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu over the past two years, and charts her journey towards securing an Olympic berth.

Editor’s Note: For five years now, Indian athletes have been dreaming to make up for the disappointment of a two-medal haul in Rio. The span has been extraordinary, with COVID-19 having thrown their preparations – and the Olympics itself – off gear. However, in true Olympic spirit, the country’s finest sportspersons have battled form and uncertainty to put their best foot forward in what promises to be a Games like none other. In our latest series, we track the last two years’ performances of our athletes to give you a ready guide to their form leading into the biggest sporting spectacle of the world. 

On paper, weightlifter Mirabai Chanu’s should have been fourth among the contenders to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics in July this year in the 49kg weight class. The Chinese duo of Hou Zhihui and Jiang Huihua are the world’s best while North Korea’s RI Song Gum is the third top lifter in the world based on sheer lifting total.

Zhihui’s best total at an event is 213kg (96kg in snatch and 117kg in clean & jerk), which came at the recent 2020 Asian Championships in Tashkent. At these Asian Championships, which were deferred by a year to 2021, Zhihui set the world record in snatch and the overall total WR.

Her compatriot Huihua has a total of 212kg (94kg in snatch and 118kg in clean & jerk) to her credit, lifted at the 2019 IWF World Championships. Meanwhile, the North Korean lifter, Song Gum, has a total of 209kg (91kg in snatch and 118kg in clean & jerk) to her name, set at the 2019 IWF World Cup in Tianjin.

India’s Chanu has set the bar at a total of 205kg (86kg in snatch and 119kg in clean & jerk) at the recently-concluded 2020 Asian Weightlifting Championships (which were held in April 2021 after being postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The Indian’s clean & jerk lift is currently a world record.

Luckily for the Indian lifter, either Zhihui or Huihua will compete at the Tokyo Olympics since IWF and Tokyo 2020 rules allow just one lifter from a country to compete in a single weight class. North Korea’s pullout from the Olympics also means Song Gum will not be in action at Tokyo.

“I don’t want a silver in the Olympics, I want gold,” Mirabai told wire agency PTI in April 2021. “I have to go beyond the Chinese lifters. They think that no one can lift more than them but I want to break that. I can fight with them.”

Commonwealth gold, Worlds heartbreak

At the Commonwealth Senior Championships, held in July 2019 in Samoa’s Apia, Mirabai claimed gold with a total of 191kg (84kg in snatch and 107 kg in clean & jerk).

A few months later, she competed at the World Championships in Thailand’s Pattaya. She crossed the 200kg mark for the first time in her career and posted career best lifts in clean & jerk (114kg) and snatch (87kg). However, her total of 201kg was good enough to see her finish just fourth, with Huihua claiming gold with a 212kg (94kg + 118kg) total. Her compatriot Zhihui clinched silver with a 211kg total (94kg + 117kg) and North Korea’s Song Gum claimed bronze by totalling 204kg. The North Korean’s total was three kgs better than the Indian’s.

Gold at Qatar

In December 2019, at the 6th Qatar International Cup, Mirabai won gold with a total of 194kg. She lifted 83 in snatch and 11kg in clean & jerk, both much lower than her personal bests at that stage.

Record-setting nationals

At the weightlifting Nationals in February 2020, Mirabai broke her own 49kg national record by lifting a total of 203kg to win the gold medal.

She lifted 85kg in her first snatch attempt, then mailed her second attempt of 88kg (which was one kg more than the national record and her personal best of 87kg.) However, she lost her balance in her third attempt and could not lift 90kg.

In the clean & jerk, she lifted 111kg and 115kg in her first two attempts, the second lift being better than her previous national record of 114kg. But, just as in snatch, she couldn’t maintain her balance in her third lift of 117kg. Highlighting the gulf in class, silver medallist Sanjita Chanu lifted 185kg—18 kgs less than Mirabai’s gold-winning one.

Training in USA

Due to the pandemic, Mirabai did not compete for over a year, a time spend largely being confined to the National Institute of Sport (NIS) in Patiala. But during this time, she travelled to USA in November-December 2020 to train under Dr Aaron Horschig, a former weightlifter turned physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach. Dr Horschig identified asymmetry in her gluteus during the lifts, and also noticed mobility restrictions in her left shoulder that was putting undue stress on her right shoulder, leading to chronic pain.

“The only good thing was that I went to USA and trained that helped me a lot. It was a change for me, mentally as well. There I was just made to do exercises of the back and right shoulder. That has helped me a lot, it improved my squat and snatch,” she told PTI.

World record effort

At the 2020 Asian Weightlifting Championships in April 2021 (postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Mirabai was among the favourites to win a medal in the women’s 49kg category. But she fluffed her first two snatch attempts, bringing back memories from five years ago. At the Rio Olympics in 2016, Mirabai was considered a medal contender. But she couldn’t register a lift in any of her three clean and jerk attempts to return home empty-handed.

Mirabai, who says she feels more comfortable in clean and jerk, then lifted 86kg in her final snatch attempt. In the clean and jerk, she heaved a weight of 119kg, a world record effort, to finish third overall, behind the Chinese pair of Hou Zhihui (who lifted 213kg) and Jiang Huihua (207kg). Her combined total of 205kg was also her personal best. Her 86kg lift put her fourth in snatch, behind the two Chinese lifters—Zhihui lifted 96kg while Huihua lifted 89kg. Indonesia’s Aisah Windy Cantika was third with a lift of 87kg. In clean and jerk, the Indian lifter’s mark of 119kg was one kg better than Huihua and two better than Zhihui. To illustrate how far ahead the Chinese lifters and Mirabai were to the rest of the field at the Asian Championships, Indonesia’s Cantika, the fourth-place lifter overall, was 16 kgs behind bronze medallist Mirabai.

The Tashkent event was the first competition Mirabai was competing in in a year. She admitted to being nervous.

“At the Asian Championships when I failed in my first two lifts in snatch, I just kept telling myself to make it count in the last attempt,” she recalled.

Chanu said there was a lull in her training of three-four months when the lockdown was imposed in March 2020.

“But I didn’t let my muscles loosen. I did whatever I could to work on my body,” she said.

Pressure of expectations

Mirabai admits she was broken after her failure at Rio Olympics, where she entered the competition as one of the favourites to win a medal, but crashed out.

“I was really disappointed and completely broken after Rio. I was so low that I had to seek the help of SAI psychologists. They told me that the pressure of being a medal hopeful and the fact that it was my first Olympics had played on my mind,” she told journalists at a virtual press conference organised by Sports Authority of India.

But now that expectations from her are again sky-high, Mirabai is more relaxed.

“I have changed a lot since 2016 failure. I am mentally stronger and also working with a SAI psychologist.

“I’ve changed my training in these five years. I have addressed each of my weaknesses. I have assessed which areas to work on, and now I am raring to go. I have some technical deficiency in my snatch, and I am working hard on that. I would like to once again go to USA to iron out these issues,” she said.

Chanu has reached Tokyo after undergoing a 50-day training stint in St Louis, USA, and is India’s brightest hope for a medal in weightlifting at the Games.

Click here to check out form guides for the rest of the Indian contingent at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. 

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