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.
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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 and her strategy to execute her lifts. She definitely has a lot of potential,” said Sharma.
India’s women weightlifting contingent now have won four medals at Glasgow, equalling their medal haul from four years ago. Coach Sharma said that the teams’ month-long training stint in Birmingham was the key for such a strong performance.
“We had a very good stay in Birmingham, most importantly because we could properly acclimatize to the conditions here.
The girls have a measure of the climate, the food and have practiced without any disturbance. Having trained in Birmingham, we haven’t had to do anything special when we arrived in Glasgow and all the girls were relaxed and confident,” she said.
Men’s challenge roars on
While the women weightlifters have finished their campaign in Glasgow, the men are still in with a chance to bag a maximum of three medals. The strongest contenders are London 2012 participant K Ravi Kumar and S Sathish Kumar who will both compete in the 77 kg category. “Ravi and Sathish are two of our strongest lifters.
They are in good form and the silver and gold medals are theirs to lose,” said Sahdev Yadav, the vice-president of the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF).
The presence of Vikas Thakur in the 85 kg event along with Chandrakant Mali in the 94 kg event also allow India the chance to add two more medals.
At the 2010 Delhi games, India had managed four medals out of eight medal categories that they had entered. Already three medals are sitting in India’s kitty and IWF president Birendra Prasad Baishya proclaimed on Saturday that he was confident that his lifters would better their performance, adding at least a couple more medals.