It’s like the first impact trauma of a headlong accident. Or like the head going under, for a drowning non-swimmer. But the way Sukhen Dey, India’s first male gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games puts it, in the life of every difficult weight-lift there comes one moment which is akin to a bulb fusing out.
“It’s like a black-out. You can clean out a weight but in the exact moment when you put your everything into a jerk, and the neck gets a sudden snap, there can be a black-out, and you feel oxygen disappearing,” says the 56 kg lifter whose total of 248 kg (109+139) for gold, brightened up every single black-out he’s suffered in his life.
The last such incident happened at Nagpur at the trials of these Commonwealth Games. “Temperatures were above 45 degrees, and with the pressure combined with heat I could almost hear my nerves snap,” he recalls.
In weight-lifting parlance, it’s called a wash-out.
But it’s when the athlete resolves to go for the jerk, focuses all his energy into an upward lug, and one foot wings out — like the landing gear of an aeroplane — to steady the body that a blood-rush can play tricks that lifters are dreadful of.
A ‘washed-out’ Dey was still persisted with after Nagpur yielded a poor fifth place, because selectors knew he could crank it up on the big stage, but going into Glasgow, Dey was carrying weights heavier than what fetched him gold.
The 25-year old had a silver at Delhi and though none of the coaches had chastised him, he had seen the look on their face that said he had lost a chance to win India’s first at Delhi, after he’d botched a 146 kg jerk. He was determined to never see that “consolation silver prize” again.
“I’d taken it as a challenge to win gold this time. This time I’d trained hard and didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” he said.
Yet, he was staring at a familiar feeling of a deep sink when he flubbed two of his snatch attempts at the SECC on Thursday. A pair of South African and Malaysian were riding on bravado with fist-pumps and showmanship, while the two Indians – Dey and Ganesh Mali – having entered on higher weights, stayed intensely focussed on the task at hand.
It was an almighty clean & jerk attempt of 139kg, where Dey went for broke. “I knew it was all about that one lift. I repeated no mistakes,” he says. “I wanted my country’s first gold. I’d trained for it,” he adds, even as the tricolour going up and national anthem all rushed past all too fast. “I know when Indians watched it from stands, even they felt goosebumps. I’ve felt it for others, this time it was my gift to those who’d come and supported me,” he chirps on.
Hailing from Bengal’s Andul, where he followed his father to a gym and then a lifter’s district camp, Sukhen says this tunnelled pursuit of gold has meant he’s missed Durga Puja for years now. “I miss home then, this year hopefully I’ll celebrate with my three sisters and many friends. They keep asking me and I keep making excuses. If Games are 2 -3 years away, people don’t understand why I can’t be home just that once in a year. But it’s always a long journey,” he adds.
This journey can be as simple as neck-strengthening exercises, since that’s where the burden rests, to telling himself over and over again that the Delhi disappointment won’t repeat at Glasgow.
“Next Incheon for Asian Games,” he says, just before Durga Puja.
There’s no gulabjamun that he likes gulping down while celebrating, here at Glasgow. But immediate succor is to be found in a treat of a pizza. “I love pizzas but we’re always making weights, so I think I’ll have one now,” his eyes light up like a pair of olives on a cheesy slice.