At her strained worst when she did a 96kg on her final lift in Clean & Jerk, Sanjita Chanu Khumukcham’s left eyelid shrunk a wee bit more than the right one and unwittingly fluttered.
Sure every sinew of her limbs was being over-reached, like it would when you haul up a total of 173 kg. But in what was one of the most commanding performances by an Indian athlete in comparison to the rest of the field to win India its first Commonwealth Games gold, Sanjita was head and shoulders above everyone else at the SECC centre on Day 1.
She’s actually only 4’11”, 47.74 kg at weigh-in. A Manipuri who likes to wear her gold clasp-earrings and leash her straight tresses firmly with bright red hairpins. But keeping a nonchalant visage throughout her 6 lifts in snatch and clean & jerk, and transforming into a Girl-Hercules intermittently when called upon the stage, Sanjita looked quite assured, though she was entrusted the job of getting India off the mark.
Her three attempts in snatch were seamless – ground to eye level and above the head in one neat movement as she stopped at 77 kg, just enough to stake claims on the medal, and refusing to gun for the record at 78 kg.
“My job was to win the medal. I didn’t want to think of anything else,” she said later, so elated that she feared she won’t feel hungry for days. “I’m full with the medal,” she said flashing her wide smile.
In her first clean & jerk, she stuttered and registered a No Lift. “You know I got scared, and a hundred doubts entered my head. I was ranked 1, I was supposed to win, but I was a little shaken by that first attempt. I thought too much,” she explained, her index finger accusingly poking the side of the head repeatedly.
96kg on her final lift needed a louder war-cry, but it was like watching an engine start, as she inhaled noisily and then hit the routine of heave to the shoulder and a steady jerk.
There was Australian Tegan Napper, she of the model looks and winsome smile, who had dared to grin wide before she dropped the bar in her final. Sanjita was not to be left behind, and ensured she smiled for the lensmen before she was done with the 96.
“It’s a start for her now, from here she should target the big ones,” said Kunjarani Devi, Khel Ratna and former star, now coach and the one person in that hall who could put into perspective the gold and goad Sanjita to think big and look ahead. She still awaits anyone in 48kg in India to break her record of 190 kg total.
Sanjita though benefitted from the presence of silver winner – India’s Mirabai Chanu Saikhom, a year younger, and 0.04 kg lighter. Mirabai totalled 170, but had added some drama to Sanjita’s march to the medal by attempting a 98 kg in her final clean & jerk lift.
She wavered a little too much, stuttering a few steps back before steadying herself, and her right hand moving shakily and though she and coach Hansa Sharma were convinced they had a good lift, the judges thought otherwise. Mirabai, had 75kg in her snatch.
Both are camp-mates from Manipur at the national camp at Patiala, and it was in Sanjita’s injury-year of 2013 that the shadow of Mirabai had sneaked upto her, matching load for load, snatch for snatch.
The younger team-mate even briefly moved ahead in internationals last year, before Sanjita reclaimed her title as India’s best. Yet, Saikhom led the field more than once on Thursday, keeping Sanjita on her toes. “They’ve helped each other in the camp, and pushed to lift more and a little more,” Kunjarani says, though she dispenses advice equally.
An opening day winner herself at the 2006 Games — despite being racked by body-ache and injuries threatening to snap her resolve at the first mis-step — Kunjarani had given it her all.
“You have to step up. This will be Sanjita’s biggest day of her young career, when she walks back into the Games village,” Kunjarani said, recalling her own triumph.
“I want to tell my mother mission accomplished, and she can be proud of me now,” Sanjita said, flanked by her coach.