Imphal: It was an emotional homecoming for newly-crowned Olympic silver medallist Mirabai Chanu. The weightlifter broke down on meeting her mother here Tuesday. Mirabai Chanu was then felicitated by Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh at the airport. Much like the reception Monday at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the national capital, Chanu was met with media frenzy at the Bir Tikendrajit International Airport here.
See homecoming video: https://twitter.com/i/status/1419936793550409733
Chanu was seen hugging her mother Saikhom Ongbi Tombi Leima and her father Saikhom Kriti Meitei with tears rolling down her face. Security guards formed a ring around her.
Chanu sported gold earrings shaped like Olympic rings at the Tokyo Games. Those were a gift from her mother who sold her own jewellery to wish Chanu luck at the Rio Games. She had then hoped her daughter would win a medal, Chanu fulfilled her expectations five years later.
The 26-year-old hails from Nongpok Kakching village, which is around 25km from here.
From the airport, Chanu went to attend a Manipur state government felicitation. It was hosted by the chief minister. The 26-year-old lifted a total of 202kg (87kg+115kg) to better Karnam Malleswari’s bronze in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Training tirelessly, staying away from family and maintaining a strict diet for five years finally culminated in the moment Chanu had been desperately waiting for. It was standing atop the Olympic podium but it almost didn’t happen. But it almost did not happen.
The postponement of the Tokyo Games and a break in training due to the Covid-19 lockdown last year brought with it a shoulder issue for the weightlifter. It was something Chanu had been worried about before the Olympics.
“When I started training after the lockdown, my back started getting tight. Also my right shoulder had some issue. It was not an injury but it would get tight while lifting heavy weights,” Chanu said Tuesday. “It happened because I had stopped training during the lockdown and my body,” she added.
Resuming training after months of staying inside her room, Chanu developed the shoulder issue. This severely affected her performance in snatch, one of the two events in weightlifting. To rectify it, she flew to the US to get treatment last year.
Working with Dr Aaron Horschig, a former weightlifter turned physical therapist and strength and conditioning coach, immensely benefited her. Chanu won a bronze at the Asian Championship with a world record clean and jerk lift of 119kg in April.
“That’s why we planned to go to US. That helped me a lot and I was able to create a world record in Asian Championship,” Chanu said. Keeping the utility of the tour in mind, she again flew to the US for a 50-day camp ahead of the Tokyo Games.
At the Tokyo Games, the 26-year-old brought cheers to over a billion people as she clinched the silver medal with an effort of 204kg (87kg+115kg) in the women’s 49kg category.
“The US physiotherapist worked with me. I have a muscle imbalance. Whenever I lifted a heavy load I used to be in pain. She would make me do some exercises. That benefited me a lot,” Chanu informed.
The imbalance was not the first hurdle Chanu had to face in the run up to the Tokyo Games. After gold-medal winning performances in the 2017 World Championship and Commonwealth Games a year later, the Manipuri suffered a mysterious lower-back injury. It led her to miss the 2018 Asian Games.
The back injury marred Chanu’s progress in 2018. However, the former World Champion made a strong comeback after undergoing rehab. She consistently improved her personal best and looked set for the Tokyo Olympics.
But then the Covid-19 pandemic caused a global lockdown, training had to stop and the Olympics were postponed. It was something that the Commonwealth Games double medallist wasn’t looking forward to.
“If it’s postponed (the Olympics) there will be a lot of problem because a lot can change in a short period of time for us,” Chanu had said in March last year. Her worst fears came true as she developed the shoulder issue.
“I had recovered from my 2018 back injury. But then I developed this shoulder issue. I would think a lot about it. Why one after the other something was happening to me?” she said.
Chanu said reading about fellow Manipuri N Kunjarani Devi, the most decorated Indian female weightlifter, inspired her to take up weightlifting.
“While growing up, I was inclined towards sports. But I had no idea what to do after getting in also. Slowly I understood that I could do good and make India proud. The history books in my school had information about Kunjrani madam, I was inspired by that,” she signed off.