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Five years after Rio heartbreak, Mirabai Chanu clinches silver medal at Tokyo Olympics to open India’s account

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It started in 2016 at the Rio Olympics. Multiple failed lifts and a 21-year-old Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, a major medal hope then too, was all of a sudden brought to the ground. And in India we love to castigate our athletes who fail. Chanu was no different. Why was she being indulged? Did she really warrant the money that she was getting?

A distraught Chanu even thought of quitting the sport. Sport is perhaps the only thing in life that allows a person an opportunity to become a hero after spectacularly failing in public. Chanu, who had failed in Rio, got her second chance to succeed in Tokyo. And she did. A fantastic start in the snatch round set it up and by the time Chanu had stepped onto the floor for the clean and jerk round, a medal was hers to lose. Clean and jerk is anyway her pet event and the only competition she had was from China’s Zhihui Hou, who bagged gold.

To her credit she did push the bar and gave the Chinese girl a run for her money. “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.” Chanu is a story of empowerment more than anything. She had no plans of being a weightlifter. All she was doing was lifting wooden logs from the nearby forest to bring back home to light fires at the peak of winter.

How could a girl her age lift such heavy logs, asked many? Chanu, however, was unfazed. She enjoyed the challenge of lifting weights and that’s when her mother spotted something special in her child. It was Chanu’s mother who pushed her to be an athlete and was understandably delighted at what her daughter achieved in Tokyo. Let’s also make one thing clear: Chanu’s medal is not a surprise. Everyone accounted for a medal in weightlifting and considered Chanu a serious contender. She has done well consistently across world competitions and the only prize missing from her cabinet was the Olympic Games. She even has earrings in the shape of Olympic rings and wore them every single day as a reminder to herself of an unfulfilled dream.

Chanu wasn’t born into privilege. She is very much the girl next door who dared to dream. In fact, she is the idea of India that continues to inspire us all. From lifting logs as a child to lifting the morale of a nation in Tokyo, Chanu is now part of India’s sporting folklore. While leaving India, Chanu had posted a photo at the Delhi airport. In the photograph she is seen standing alone getting ready for the long journey to Japan. Now when she returns home victorious having had a date with history, there will be many who will be at the airport to claim a piece of her. She is no longer just another good weightlifter.

She is now the first-ever Indian to win a silver medal on the opening day of the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. She is also the first Indian to win a silver in weightlifting, bettering the bronze medal won by Karnam Malleswari at 2000 Sydney Olympics. What her medal has also done is lift the morale of the entire contingent. Be it the men’s hockey team who started very well beating New Zealand 3-2 or Satwik Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty who played a sensational match against the world No. 3 Chinese Taipei pair, everyone in the Indian camp is overjoyed at Chanu’s achievement. The pressure too has eased with a medal coming early and that’s what can help make these games the best-ever in India’s Olympic history.

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