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Friday, Oct 07, 2022

Jeremy Lalrinnunga’s youthful star shines bright in pain-ridden gold medal feat at CWG 2022

Despite facing muscle cramps and an elbow injury, the 19-year-old lifted a total of 300kg -- 7kg more than anyone else – to win a second gold medal for India in Birmingham.

Jeremy Lalrinnunga battles cramps, injury to lift a total of 300kg, Games Record, to win India's second gold medal of the Commonwealth Games. (PTI)

Perhaps the loudest voice at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham on Saturday, as Sanket Sargar battled injury to complete 139kg clean and jerk lifts to win silver in the 55kg category at the Commonwealth Games, was that of fellow weightlifter Jeremy Larinnunga.

The 19-year-old, capturing the action on an Instagram Live session, regularly broke into roars of encouragement as if he were Sargar’s personal hype man. “Aayega! Aayega! (It will come),” he shouted frantically. Larinnunga shrieked in disappointment and clapped and cheered for his teammate.

On Sunday, presumably in the absence of his own personal hype man, as he braved injuries of his own, Jeremy picked up the gold medal in the 67kg category at the Games.

Larinnunga’s dominance of the event was on full display. His snatch lift of 140kg was 10kg more than anybody else, and his injury-ridden clean and jerk lift of 160kg was enough to ensure gold. Silver medallist, Samoa’s Vaipava Ione, and bronze medallist, Nigeria’s Edidong Umoafia, trailed his total of 300kg by 7kg and 10kg respectively.

Jeremy swaggered onto the stage as if he had been familiar with it for years. His confidence and ability were telling after he reeled from the disappointment of failing the snatch attempt to break his own national record with a grin.

The scenes of the clean and jerk round were hard to see. In his first two attempts – which were enough to secure a gold medal – Jeremy faced painful muscle cramps. His attempt to lift 165kg was cut short by an elbow injury, which saw him fall back to the floor, reeling in pain. He may have won gold, but the extent of his injury remains to be seen.

The makings of gold

Despite his young age, Jeremy came into the CWG with a heavy weight of expectations on his shoulders. He holds all three 67kg National Records – 141kg in snatch, 167kg in clean and jerk, and 306kg in total, and was fresh off a gold medal at the Commonwealth Championships last year after bouncing back from the disappointment of failing to make the cut for Tokyo.

In the absence of Pakistan’s Talha Talib, serving a doping suspension, he was one of the pre-event favourites to climb the top step of the podium. And despite a buildup that was marred by a back and knee injury, as well as a bout of Covid-19, he did not disappoint.

Managing expectations is no big deal for Jeremy though, having been in the limelight since the age of 15 when he won India’s first-ever Youth Olympics gold medal in 2018. Since then, the anticipation for his weightlifting career to take off has only been building.

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Growing up in Aizawl, he is the son of a well-known Mizoram boxer of the 1990s, Lalneihtluanga, who had to give up his sporting career to support his family and take up a job in the Public Works Department (PWD). While speaking to The Indian Express back in 2018, Lalneihtluanga revealed that despite living on a salary of Rs 370 per day, he supported his son to the best of his abilities.

Jeremy wanted to take up boxing like his father, but after showing promise in the state academy – where he trained in basic weightlifting techniques using bamboo sticks and water pipes – at the age of 9, he was selected to train at the Army Sports Institute in Pune, from where his development took off and he was eventually sent to Buenos Aires for the Youth Olympics.

Despite his humble background, the invariable pressure of representing India internationally, and being thousands of kilometres away from home, all at a time when his physical and mental development was not close to being complete, Jeremy was unfazed. “I was not scared even though it was a totally alien experience for me because two of my friends, Jacob Vanlaltluanga and Zakhuma, were also selected. We did full masti (fun) but also learned a lot,” he told The Indian Express after his gold-medal triumph in Buenos Aires.

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For him, the joy of being a part of an elite-level sporting competition, alongside friends and teammates, was far greater than the nerves or the pressure. And be it in cheering on fellow lifters, or his own dominant performance, Jeremy never lost sight of that even while competing in the biggest event of his career.

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The Indian weightlifting contingent has delivered in the CWG – winning medals in all five categories so far – and even greater things are expected as they go to the Asian Games next year, and the Paris Olympics the year after that. While his recent physical issues may prompt the Indian Weightlifting Federation to manage his workload carefully, Jeremy has now established himself as both their present and their future, doing it all with a smile on his face.

First published on: 31-07-2022 at 04:03:23 pm
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