“Watching the likes of Kunjarani Devi and Anita Chanu inspired me.”
These are the words of weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, who has lit up the eyes of Indian sporting fans with her fabulous performance at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia. Earlier today, she broke the women’s 48-kg category CWG record by lifting 196 kg in total. During her record-breaking spree, she lifted 86 kg in snatch and 110 kg in the clean and jerk.
Who are two women that Mirabai speaks of?
Anita Chanu is a former international weightlifter herself, who runs a training centre in Luwangsangbam in North Manipur, which is 25 km away from Mirabai’s remote village of Nabakosing. For ten years Mirabai underwent intensive training sessions at Anita’s weightlifting centre.
A winner of the reputed Dhyan Chand Award, Anita has risen to a great level of success in her coaching career. From the time she was denied a coaching spot at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the Indian weightlifting contingent on the pretext of being not able to speak English, to coaching arguably India’s most famous weightlifter today, Anita has come a long way.
“Initially, Mirabai’s parents did not allow her to join weightlifting. Her father used to work at state PWD department and earn a paltry salary. So, he also used to do agricultural work at his neighbours’ land in the locality to increase earnings. I remember those days when Mirabai would ask me to allow training even if she would be quite late. She had to travel a distance of 25 kilometres after helping her father on the land,” says Anita, speaking to My Khel.
Understanding the athlete’s talent and harnessing it are the hallmarks of a good coach. In an interaction with ESPN, Anita speaks of what makes Mirabai special.
“Her technique is very smooth. She is very explosive and completes her entire movement very fast. She gets under the bar very quickly, which is extremely important,” said Anita to ESPN.
“She has a great sense of making sure the bar’s centre of gravity is between her feet. The other lifters have the bar falling forward or to the back or on one side. This makes it very hard for them,” Anita added.
Mirabai’s second inspiration
“After me, there was a period where Indian weightlifters faced a lot of struggle. Mirabai changed that. She is a one in a generation lifter,” said Nameirakpam Kunjarani Devi, one of India’s most decorated weightlifters.
Kunjarani Devi has more than fifty international medals to her credit. She also won a gold medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in the same 48-kg category with a then Games record 166 kg overall lift, which included 72 kg in snatch and 94 kg in the clean and jerk.
Mirabai’s dream to become a champion weightlifter reportedly began when she was nine-years-old, watching Kunjarani Devi’s performance at the 2004 Olympics, where the latter finished fifth. Watching that podium, spurred a dream in little Mirabai of standing there with a medal.
Her name is now etched in Manipuri sporting folklore, and she has inspired hundreds of her fellow state athletes to take up the sport.
“I wanted to be like her. We all did,” Mirabai once said. In fact, the young weightlifter had the honour of breaking her idol’s national record during the trials for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, lifting a total of 192 kg. It was a 12-year-old record Devi had set during the 2004 Olympic Games.
Thanks to Anita and Kunjarani, and the incredible hard work and perseverance of Mirabai, India can today celebrate a genuine champion weightlifter.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)