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How ‘Golden’ Girl Mirabai Chanu Smashed Barriers to Lift India to New Heights!

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu was only 11 when she won her first-ever competitive gold medal.

Unsolicited stares, unwelcome comments, and hostile attacks against Northeast Indians has seen a steady rise.

Racial slurs like ‘chinky’ for our own people settled in the frontier regions have pushed them to prove their ‘Indianness’ time and again, despite their contribution to the freedom struggle and their dedication to make the nation proud.

This article aims to narrate the story of one such personality in the field of sports.

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu was only 11 when she won her first-ever competitive gold medal.

Mirabai Chanu manipur weight-lifter smashed barriers inspiring india
Photograph credit: Facebook/Saikhom Mirabai Chanu

The weightlifting champion, who made her debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was faced with bitter disappointment when she was only one of two lifters who did not finish at the entry level category.

Despite the disappointment, Mirabai Chanu created history at the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships held in Anaheim, United States. She became the second Indian in 22 years to clinch a gold at the World Weightlifting Championships after legendary weightlifter, Karnam Malleswari.

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Malleswari had achieved this feat twice, in 1994 in Turkey, and in China in 1995.

Mirabai lifted over four times her body weight to clinch that gold and when she finished the lift, she did her customary namaste giving India a podium finish.

She was born in a humble family in Nongpok Kakching village, located 20 kilometres from Imphal, Manipur. While her father is a lower-level employee at the Public Works Department in Imphal, her mother ran a small shop in their village.

The youngest of six siblings, Mirabai would accompany her older brother, Saikhom Sanatomba Meitei, to collect firewood from a nearby hill. It was at the age of 12 that the family recognised the strength of the little girl.

Speaking to PTI, her brother recalled, “One day, I could not lift the bundle of firewood but Mira easily lifted it and took it our home, about two kilometres away. She was about 12-years-old then.”

Mirabai started her weightlifting journey inspired by the performance of seven-time champion Kunjarani Devi at the 2004 Athens Olympics, who coincidentally also moved on to coaching her at one point in her career.

A brief overview of her journey:

Photo Source: Facebook/Saikhom Mirabai Chanu
  • She hogged limelight first after clinching a silver medal for India in the 48 kg weightlifting category at the Glasgow edition of the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
  • Despite qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics in the women’s 48 kg category, she couldn’t finish the event as she failed to lift the weight in any of her three attempts in the clean and jerk section.
  • She bounced right back up after her historic gold win in 2017 in the Women’s 48 kg category at the World Weightlifting Championships in Anaheim, CA, United States by lifting a competition record 194 kg in total (85 kg snatch and 109 kg clean and jerk).
  • In 2018, Chanu lifted a total of 196 kg, 86 kg in snatch and 110 kg in clean and jerk to win the first gold medal for India in the Commonwealth Games 2018. She also broke the record for the weight category.
  • At the 2019 Asian Weightlifting Championships, she won bronze in clean and jerk in the 49 kg Category. The total weight of 199 kg was her best ever.
  • She clinched a gold medal at the EGAT Cup in Thailand, making a strong comeback from the lower back injury that kept her out of action for more than half of 2018.
  • Mirabai was bestowed the prestigious Padma Shri by the Government of India for her contribution to the sport. She was awarded Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award by the Government of India in 2018.

At her CWG 2018 win, her brother recalled her triumph despite odds, saying

“There was a lot of financial crisis for her and they could hardly support her. Despite all the hardships, she has reached a stage we never thought of… All these brought tears to my father and mother.”


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#EndTheStereotype

This story is part of The Stereotypeface Project, an initiative by The Better India that challenges 26 stereotypes, which continue to exist even today. We are showcasing these stereotypes through all the letters of the English language alphabet.

Stereotypes exist everywhere — they are passed down over generations. Instead of embracing and celebrating what makes us unique, we stand divided because of them!

We’ve unconsciously learned to stereotype, now let’s consciously #EndTheStereotype.

Visit www.stereotypes.in to know more about the campaign and support the effort!

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(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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Written by Jovita Aranha

A lover of people, cats, food, music, books & films. In that order. Binge-watcher of The Office & several other shows. A storyteller on her journey to document extraordinary stories of ordinary people.