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Who is Mirabai Chanu?

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu of Team India competes during the Weightlifting - Women's 49kg on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

India opened its medal tally in the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, thanks to Mirabai Chanu, who clinched a silver medal in the 49kg women's weightlifting category. She is only the second Indian to win a medal in weightlifting, after Karnam Malleswari's bronze in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The 26-year-old Manipuri athlete's entry into the world of weightlifting was accidental. When she was 12 years old, Mirabai wanted to enroll in archery but the enclosure was closed, so she peeked into the weightlifting hall at Khuman Lampak Stadium and was smitten. For the next four years, Mirabai would travel 20-odd kms daily between her home in the village of Nongpok Kakching to Imphal for her classes.


She won her first significant medal just one year after training — a gold at the Youth Championships in Chhattisgarh in 2009. Within five years, she was lifting a combined weight of 170 kg, enough to win her a silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. She started working with her current coach Vijay Sharma that year, and by 2016 was lifting a total of 192 kg, breaking Kunjarani Devi’s 12-year-old record of 190 kg.

Mirabai Chanu won India’s first gold medal in the Commonwealth Games

Mirabai Chanu won India’s first gold medal in the Commonwealth Games  


Mirabai credits her success to years spent trekking up and down hills carrying firewood on her head. Over the last five years, Mirabai has won multiple accolades. In 2017, she won a gold medal at the World Weightlifting Championship, the first Indian woman to do so after Karnam Malleswari in 1994, proving herself to a world that had written her off.

She had her lows too. Mirabai failed at the 2016 Rio Olympics despite qualifying for it. Her performance at Rio was ignominious as she recorded three ‘no lifts’ in clean and jerk following an 82kg effort in snatch. A lower back pain snatched away nearly a year from Mirabai, but the gritty lifter fought back.


“I was really low after the Olympics. It took me a lot of time to get over the disappointment. I even thought of giving up the sport and stop training. The comments in social media, the criticism against my coach really hurt me,” she had said in an interview.

She chased it with other golds — at the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast and the 2019 EGAT cup in Thailand. She bettered her own record at this year’s World Weightlifting Championship, finishing fourth with a combined lift of 201 kg, and ended 2019 with a bang: gold at the Qatar International Cup.

Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh felicitated her by presenting her with a cheque of Rs. 20 lakhs. In 2018, she was awarded with the Padma Shri and the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.

She became the lone weightlifter to be qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and since then has been working on her snatch performance in order to give India its second weightlifting medal after 21 years.

(With inputs from the reports of Y.B. Sarangi and Preeti Zachariah)

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Printable version | Sep 9, 2021 11:12:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/who-is-mirabai-chanu/article23444113.ece

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