The city of Vellore can lift the heaviest of weights for a stunning show of gold. Recently, they built a mammoth temple out there, using about 1500 kilograms of gold, perhaps the largest quantity of the precious metal hauled up for building a structure in the world.
Late on Sunday in Glasgow, where the humble red sandstone pervades every other material used for tenements, Vellore boy Sathishkumar Sivalingham, lifted a total of 328 kg to clinch the 77kg gold in India’s much-vaunted category, with his senior teammate Ravi Kumar coming second.
His pulse-raising 149kg attempt in snatch broke the Commonwealth Games record, and the sheer guttural cry when he went 7kg above his nearest rival (Ravi had 142), belied what was a power lift as smooth in its execution from ground to air as a jumbo Boeing’s takeoff.
Sathish had snatched 150kg in training, but hadn’t fancied breaking the Games record.
His 179 for the clean & jerk, though, was staggering drama. Australian Farancois Etoundi, braided hair and a brute smile bobbing above that gold-green muscled torso mass, had entered the fray, pulling off a good lift of 177 rather unexpectedly.
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That prompted India’s gold medal favourite and Olympian Ravi Kumar to recalibrate his own second attempt after a successful 175 to 185. He didn’t look too convincing, and headed back into the wings clutching his back.
The Malaysian lifter had tried in vain to make this a four-way race, but it was essentially an all-India contest. Like, it’s been at the Patiala national camp for the last two years.
Sathish’s 178 though seeming like it would pass muster after he held the bar above his head, hadn’t pleased the judges and it was declared a No Lift, as the stunned Indian looked to gather his wits and go for the second chance.
Not quite with Hulk-ish fury as his snatch, but with an audible surge of power into his veins, Sathish cleaned at the cue of ‘kheench’ from his coach, and looked like a ton of air was filled into his jowl, as he made good the winning lift.
The signature celebration was lifting both hands like an angry hero in an action film, and thumping the chest with both palms – eyes wide and glaring all throughout.
He’d quit the 185kg, and Ravi would go onto settle for 175 (total of 317kg) and a silver, but Sathish won over a crowd that had sighed with him when the 178 attempt was shot down.
Son of a weightlifter, who needed to heave the barbells to secure an army job through sports quota, Sathish was a product of both his father’s vocation and of being born in the weightlifting-crazy village of Satuvchari where the modest Atlas Gym has produced a string of international lifters.
“He hated drinking milk as a child and I wondered how we’d get him into the sport,” says father Sivalingam, who gathered neighbours and relatives to watch the finals at 2 am India time.
“He’d been telling them for four years that I was training for this. I’m happy I won gold, so they must’ve seen for themselves now,” Sathish said.
The 22-year-old speaks Hindi with a sing-song twang that’s more Bhopal and Hyderabad than Vellore or even Patiala where he’s been training now. “Father’s job took us to many places, before we settled in Vellore where I started my training at 13 in a meet for kids,” he recalls.
His conditioning and nutrition had been all wrong before Patiala’s national camp. “We are not very rich. Mother would run behind me with a glass of milk, and I told myself to like the taste only because it’d help in my lifting,” he adds.
One of the most explosive lifters in India, Sathish’ improvements have been astonishing, lifting 28kgs more than what he did two years back.
A steady consistent lifter whose strength is almost a visible coat when he’s on the platform, his biggest motivation though was the man who he consigned to silver.
“Ravi Sir is a senior, and everytime he’d pick 2 kg, I’d be tempted to lift 4,” he says. Friends and room-mates off the platform, the two have made the 77kg a livewire event, trading leads, though with his shoulder surgery, Ravi’s not the force he used to be – also since he moved weights from 69kg to 77 and starts shaky in his first lifts.
“He puts in lot of hardwork, and it’s commendable that after surgery he’s managed a silver,” Sathish says loyally.
Younger, and a tad immature, Sathish is quite a handful for his coaches and even senior. “He’s not as mature, and a big prankster. Sometimes he just misses training or not as intense as Ravi. But once he starts competing, he can outpower anyone and outlift them,” says coach Vijay Sharma. His failed 178 was because he couldn’t roll the knee, but 179 which helped him break the national record of Sathish Rai was pure wattage weightlifting at the SECC hall, which fit right into the city where James Watt invented power-pumps.
“For him, it was a challenge to beat Ravi, because everyone told him he’s only a back-up for gold,” says father Sivalingam. This was one event where Indians were expected to finish 1-2 from Day 1. “Question was who’d win which,” he adds. “All credit to Ravi for pushing my son,” he says.
Sivalingam retired from the army as a national-level lifter, but was determined that his son stay close to home and had insisted he join Railways instead. “Beta, maine army bahut dekh liya,” he would tell him. “He wanted me to compete internationally and see the world, not just cantonments around India,” Sathish says.
A constant-fiddler with phones and computers, Sathish could well have picked up engineering. But like Vellore, he reckoned his life ought to be worth its weight in gold.