NEW DELHI : Given the sheer nature of their sport, weightlifters often hoist pounds of iron that’s twice their weight over their shoulders. But what Mirabai Chanu will attempt on Sunday is something that no Indian woman in her category, 49kg (previously 48), has done before. Chanu, one of India’s biggest medal hopes for the Tokyo Olympics, is approaching the Asian Championship, which gets underway on Saturday, with a straightforward plan. “Lift 200kg,” coach Vijay Sharma says.
At the 2018 World Championship, the top four had all crossed the 200kg-mark, although two went on to fail dope tests. But Chanu and Sharma have set the two-ton lift as their first milestone in build-up to the Games, where Chanu’s ultimate target is to lift 210kg to stay in contention for a medal – 14kg more than her current best of 196kg.
A week ago, during her last high-intensity training session, Chanu lifted a total 203kg (88 in snatch and 115 in clean and jerk). “It’s given her a lot of confidence. Since then, we have eased our training a little so she isn’t over-worked. But the challenge will be to repeat the same performance in competition, where the pressure is a lot higher,” Sharma says.
In a team of 11, Chanu is India’s sole medal hope. This will be her first major tournament since a long injury layoff – she won gold at the EGAT’s Cup last month but that was a relatively weak field. Ningbo, though, will be her real test.
The Asian Championships take place in the Chinese port city in shadow of a series of doping scandals that have forced the International Olympic Committee to reconsider weightlifting’s presence at the Games. Zero positives from last year’s World Championships gave some hope that the battered sport had moved on from its steroid culture. But a re-analysis using advanced techniques exposed 8 dope cheats from the event—all from Thailand, a country that routinely flexes its muscles in the lighter weight categories.
That put further pressure on the sport, which has only a provisional place on the 2024 Olympics programme.
Thailand, meanwhile, has imposed a ban on itself and opted out of the Olympic qualifiers and that has inadvertently played out in Chanu’s favour. Two of the most dominant lifters in the 49kg category are from Thailand—Chayuttra Pramongkhol and Sopita Tanasan. Pramongkhol, the World Championship gold medalist who also holds the clean and jerk world record (120kg), and Olympic champion Tanasan are among the four lifters in this weight category who have lifted over 200kg. The other two are from China, the only ones who pose the biggest challenge for Chanu.