AFP/ New Delhi
India’s Olympic weightlifting hero Chanu Saikhom Mirabai said her silver medal at Tokyo 2020 had been five years in the making since she missed out on an Olympic medal in Rio. Mirabai, 26, finished second behind gold medallist Hou Zhihui of China in the 49kg women’s wrestling on day one of the Olympic weightlifting competition.
Congratulations poured in, including from cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar who said she had made India “very proud”. “I had worked hard for Rio but it was just not to be, but from that day onwards I thought of winning in Tokyo and fulfil my dream of an Olympic medal,” Mirabai told reporters. “I am here because of what I had learned in Rio.”
Mirabai, the 2017 world champion at 48kg, had failed to finish in the 2016 Olympics after recording no clean lifts in three clean and jerk attempts.
But she came back strong to aggregate 202kg in Tokyo and become a national hero at becoming India’s first weightlifting silver medallist, after Karanam Malleswari’s bronze in the women’s 69kg at Sydney 2000.
Mirabai, whose family recognised her talent early when she carried huge logs of firewood which her elder brother found tough to pick, will be rewarded with $70,000 from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
“I would like to dedicate this medal to my country and would like to thank the billion prayers of all Indians which were with me during this journey,” Mirabai wrote on Twitter. “I like to thank my family especially my mother for a lot of sacrifices and believing in me.”
Mirabai said her family in the north-eastern state of Manipur had not eaten anything till her competition finished and her mother has promised to cook her fish and rice when she returns. She also said that she will gorge on pizza after missing meals for two days.
Mirabai won silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 in the 48kg class and secured Commonwealth gold on the Gold Coast in 2018. The 24-year-old world championship silver medallist Hou dominated the 49kg competition, opening up an early 7kg advantage over Mirabai that she never relinquished at the Tokyo International Forum. “I felt very happy when I finally made it,” said Hou. “In one second all the stress disappeared. I prepared for five years so it means a lot to me.”
Teenager Windy Cantika Aisah took the bronze for Indonesia after smashing her personal best twice in the clean and jerk. The 19-year-old from Bandung hoisted 110kg with her third attempt and screamed with delight as she secured a medal. She put her success down to her mum Siti, who was also a weightlifter.
Hou’s victory could herald a gold rush for China in the weightlifting, especially with arch-rivals North Korea absent. China have sent a full quota of four men and four women to Tokyo, and all are capable of finishing on the top step of the podium.
India’s Chanu Saikhom Mirabai celebrates with silver medal in Tokyo yesterday. (REUTERS)
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