Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
The smile is still on her face. "My dreams have come true after winning the Olympic medal. Everyone has given me a lot of love and respect, I am very happy," a beaming Mirabai Chanu told The Quint a few weeks after winning the historic weightlifting silver medal on the first day of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"I've never had so many people come to greet me. So, I felt a bit tense about it but it's a great feeling that people recognise me now and give me their love," added Chanu when asked about the welcome she received on her return to India, especially after having spent the larger part of the last five years focussed only on her event with just 3-4 people around her.
Rio Heartbreak And a Champion's Fightback
While Chanu is celebrating her career's biggest moment yet, the journey to the podium in Tokyo was one truly fraught with blood, sweat, and tears.
A medal-favourite five years back at the Rio Olympics, Mirabai could not lift 104 kg in the 'clean and jerk' event and was eliminated from the medal contention. A setback that was very tough to come to terms with for the Olympic debutant.
'After Rio, I was quite sad. I struggled with depression. Things like this happen to sportspersons but I had worked very hard for Rio. If I had managed to lift the weight as I did in the trials for Rio, I would have won a medal. So, I started thinking why this happened to me despite working so hard. I started doubting myself and even considered quitting weightlifting altogether.
'My mother spoke to me and supported me. My coach, Vijay sir, also motivated me and said I needed to face this setback and move ahead. Soon, I started training again and planning for the future,' said Mirabai while describing some of the toughest days of her life.
Complete Redemption in Tokyo
While it took Mirabai just a year to bounce back and re-establish her place among the top weightlifters in her category by winning the 2017 World Championships Gold, the real target continued to be an Olympic medal. So while she won a gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, she elected to withdraw from the Asian Games later in the year to work on an injury and not risk aggravating it.
A decision that may well have been the most wise to take as she managed to peak in the run up to the Tokyo Olympics, which was delayed by a year. In April 2021, she bagged a medal at the Asian Championships, with a world record in the 'clean and jerk' – the same event in which she could not register a lift five years back. In Rio, she could not lift 104 kg but in April, she successfully carried 119 kg on her shoulders and added a little weight of expectations on them as she landed in Tokyo three months later.
Expectations that she fulfilled, finishing second in her event to win India's first silver in women's weightlifting at the Olympics. All done, with a big smile on her face.
"I have worked hard. It is important to stay happy and not drown yourself in sorrow. You should train happily and work hard. That is important. If we want to achieve something and win something, we have to work hard," said Mirabai, smiling ear to ear, during her interview with The Quint.