As Obioma Okoli, an imposing 22-year-old weightlifter from Nigeria approached the barbell loaded with 123 kgs for her third and final lift, the packed Clyde Auditorium held its breath.
To Okoli’s left, just off the main stage, 19-year-old Punam Yadav had both her hands tightly clamped around her mouth, her eyes set on the burly Okoli. Yadav’s coach Hansa Sharma had both her hands on her young lifters shoulder, gripping hard in anticipation of what was to come.
Okoli wobbled as she tried to jerk the weight skywards, a huge sigh rippled across the hall but the failed attempt was a cue for Yadav and Sharma to collapse into each others arms, the youngster heaving with emotion.
Okoli’s missed attempt was the last lift of the competition, one in which the 19-year-old Yadav had just won a bronze, India’s seventh medal in weightlifting, beating off some very stiff competition.
Yadav’s compatriot, Vandna Gupta finished fourth after failing to clear her second and third lift in the clean and jerk. Eventually, Yadav took the bronze having tallied a total weight of 202 kgs while Gupta was four kilos lighter, having managed 198.
However, for Yadav, the medal was a sign that her career was headed in the right direction. Born to a modest farming family in Benaras, it was her army-man uncle who pushed her to start weightlifting. “I was quite strong compared to the other girls in my family. My uncle saw that and suggested that I should give weightlifting a serious try.
All that I am today is because of my uncle. He took out money from his own salary to fund my training and he is my biggest support today,” she said.
It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts for Yadav in the 63 kg event on Sunday evening. She failed her first attempt in the snatch event, failing to lift 85 kilos. However, she soon made amends lifting 85 and 88 kilos in her next two attempts. Gupta though, began strongly, lifting 87, 89, 91 kilos before fading in the clean and jerk event.
While Yadav managed lifts of 110kg and then 114kg in the clean and jerk, Gupta successfully lifted 107 but then failed to hoist 110 kg on her next two attempts.
Yadav’s coach, Hansa Sharma was understandably ecstatic. “We are very happy that we have got medals in every event that we have entered. Punam is relatively new to weightlifting and today was only her second competition.
But she was extremely confident all through, telling us precisely how much weight she wanted continued…