The lawn at the Carrara Stadium is designed to be a picnic spot, complete with cafés, garden chairs and beanbags, along with some feet-tapping music. After the medal ceremony of every weightlifting category, though, it turns into a gallery of sorts. The revelers gather around the staircase and every time a medal winner is spotted, a loud cheer follows.
It’s an impromptu and unintentional victory parade, as the medal winners walk through the crowd, posing for pictures and mingling with the spectators.
A safe, and obvious, way to gauge the popularity of an athlete is by observing the crowd’s reaction – louder the decibel levels, the more she is popular. Going by this assumption, the Indian weightlifters are fast acquiring superstar status here. On Thursday, Mirabai Chanu got a rock-star welcome as she climbed down the stairs. Today, it was the other Chanu’s turn. Rather, the original Chanu’s turn. Sanjita Chanu is as underrated as she is under-celebrated — the sports ministry’s decision to overlook her for the Arjuna Award is a case in point. Eventually, it took a total lift of 192kg for Chanu to remind that she’s still around. And still a champion.
Chanu’s 84kg lift in snatch and 108kg in clean and jerk won India its second gold medal of the Games. It’s also the 24-year-old’s second consecutive gold at the Commonwealth Games. Four years ago in Glasgow, Chanu had dominated the 48kg category, emerging as a strong contender for the Rio Olympics.
Many more medals were expected of her but Chanu’s form dipped. With results not showing and Mirabai starting to dominate at the national level, Chanu was unable to hold on to her position in the 48kg category and was forced to move up to 53kg. Chanu sees the positive side of it. “I am able to eat little bit more, without worrying to cut my weight for the event,” she said.
Chanu was attempting to break the Commonwealth record, like Mirabai did the day before. She partially achieved it by lifting 84kg in her third attempt in snatch. In clean and jerk, she was successful in lifting 108kg in her second attempt, which was sufficient to win gold. But in her final chance, she set the weight at 112kg, trying to better the Commonwealth record by 1kg. She failed, but the job was already done. “I thought it was not that difficult,” she said. “Probably God was not with me today.”
That she could manage to lift such a heavy weight is remarkable in itself.
Chanu suffered a back injury before the World Championship in November last year. The struggle to recover, however, was more psychological than physical. “A lot of people had doubts about whether I would win a medal again. I had to work harder and even after coming here, I had to spend extra time with the physio, nearly half-an-hour before every training session to get ready. So, when I received the medal, it brought tears to my eyes as I was delighted and relieved to have answered my critics,” she said.
The accidental lifter
Chanu wasn’t the only Indian on the podium today. Hours after the national anthem was played inside a packed arena, Deepak Lather managed a bronze in his maiden appearance. It’s easy for a bronze medalist to get lost in a sea of gold winners, which is generally the case with Indian athletes at the CWG.
But Lather’s story is rather unique. The 18-year-old is an accidental weightlifter. His grandfather played hockey; father – a farmer – played kabaddi while his young brother is an aspiring track and field athlete. Lather himself was keen to become a diver but with little scope to pursue that sport in Shadipur, Haryana, he feared he’d end up cutting weeds and ploughing the field at his father’s farm. “So I joined Army, where we were chosen on our ability to run 100m, 400m and 1km races. We were also made to perform long jumps,” Lather says.
Ultimately, he found his calling in weightlifting. Lather, the youngest national record holder (he was 15 when he managed the feat), could have won a medal of better colour in the 69kg category had he been more clinical with his final lift in the snatch segment. His clean and jerk lift, which is his weak point, was eventually his undoing. Lather lifted 295kg overall (136kg in snatch and 159kg in clean and jerk) to settle for a bronze. He, however, was elated. “A few years ago, I was working on farmlands. I wouldn’t have thought I’ll win a medal. So I’ll take this any day. Of course, the idea now is to improve for Asian Games,” he said.