Hangzhou Asian Games | Mirabai Chanu's campaign ends in heartbreak, finishes fourth

North Korea's Ri Song-gum defended her Asian Games crown with a world record lift of 124kg in clean and jerk.

September 30, 2023 04:33 pm | Updated 06:49 pm IST - Hangzhou

Mirabai Chanu Saikhom reacts after an unsuccessful lift in the women’s 49kg Group A weightlifting final at the Hangzhou Asian Games on September 30, 2023.

Mirabai Chanu Saikhom reacts after an unsuccessful lift in the women’s 49kg Group A weightlifting final at the Hangzhou Asian Games on September 30, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

There was a nervous energy about Mirabai Chanu on September 30 as she stepped onto the platform for the clean and jerk. Before she could powder her hands with the chalk, she tried to set her weight belt in place. With the clock ticking down, she struggled to find the right hole to buckle the belt around her waist, losing her focus in the process.

When she moved into position and lifted the barbell weighing 117kg on her collarbones in a squat, her hip gave away, crumbling to the floor and falling on her back. As she lay there, the staff came running with boards to cover her and help take the eyes off of her. Finally, she had to be assisted to the end of the platform before her coach Vijay Sharma lifted her up and carried her away to the back.

Sharma had warned her not to push herself in the clean and jerk. Her two failed attempts in snatch after a hip and thigh injury meant, Mirabai had to lift 117kg in clean and jerk to push for, forget the gold, a bronze medal. Despite the physical condition, she started strongly by lifting 108kg in her first attempt — she was originally set to start with 105kg — then asked for a 117kg barbell next.

“I tried for a bronze medal. If I cleared 117kg, I would have gotten bronze. It was my dream to win an Asian Games medal,” said Mirabai, who had strapped her right thigh heavily strapped, with a wry smile. “Maybe, it’s my bad luck.”

Mirabai is an Olympic silver medallist, a Commonwealth Games and World champion but only the Asian Games medal is missing from her cabinet. A back injury had forced her to miss the 2018 edition.

On a day when North Korea’s Ri Song-gum and China’s Jiang Huihua made Asian Games and world records tumble, Mirabai endured a nightmare evening.

The Indian -- who had felt pain in her hip during the deep sitting in her warm-ups — confidently snatched 83kg but wasn’t successful with her two 86kg attempts that followed. She grimacingly walked off the stage knowing it had gotten worse.

“Sir told me not to [lift 117kg] and to let it go now, otherwise I will risk injuring myself. But I had it inside me saying ‘I will do it. I have to get the medal’,” she said.

So she strapped herself with tape and got back out there for that elusive medal in vain. With Song-gum and Huihua operating on a league of their own, Mirabai needed to up the stakes in clean and jerk, to overtake Thailand’s Thanyathon Sukcharoen, who held a 7kg advantage over Mirabai after the snatch.

The thought of quitting didn’t even enter her mind. “I thought I would go all out for it in clean and jerk That’s why I didn’t let it go,” she said. “I focussed myself by saying that I had worked hard and did all the training to get here, so I wanted to complete it [journey] by competing here. But I couldn’t do it because of the pain. I tried my everything to get a medal for India.”

While she rued her ill fate at the Asian Games, Mirabai said she will first assess the condition of her injury back in India before channeling her energy towards the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The no. 8 ranked lifter in the 49kg division needs to maintain her position in the top 10 till the end of April next year to ensure automatic qualification to the Olympics.

And even if she does get on the plane to Paris, her task of making the podium has got that much harder. While Mirabai has struggled with injuries and form in recent times, her competition, even at the Asian level, is hitting new highs.

Huihua, who broke Chanu’s clean and jerk record last month, and Song-gum, who is returning to competition after North Korea lifted its self-imposed exile of four years, were involved in a thrilling battle for the gold. Song-gum broke the Asian Games record in snatch with a 92kg lift, which Huihua broke in her next attempt with 94kg. Song-gum then failed to lift to better it at 95kg. But she then broke Huihua’s world record in clean and jerk and total lift with a staggering 125kg and 216kg, respectively, to retain her gold medal and put the world on notice.

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