Before he joined the national weightlifting camp in Patiala last year, Sanket Mahadev Sargar regularly helped out at the family-owned tea stall in Sangli, Maharashtra. He also found time to train and attend college.
On Saturday afternoon, the 21-year-old weightlifter won India’s first medal of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, a silver in the 55 kg category with a total lift of 248 kilograms; 113 in the snatch and 135 in the clean and jerk. Malaysia’s Mohamad Aniq Bin won gold with a total lift of 249 (107 and 142).
Sanket’s proud father Mahadev Sargar took half a day off to celebrate. For the first time in a long time, he wasn’t selling tea. “I can afford to take a one hour break from work,” Mahadev said.
The family has been in celebration mode and Sanket’s medal gives more reason for joy.
Last month, Sanket’s younger sister Kajol Sargar became the first gold medallist of the 4th Khelo India Youth Games. Mahadev knows where to display Sanket’s medal . “When Kajol returned with the medal, we displayed the medal first at the tea-stall. That’s what has provided all the things for our family till date and Sanket’s medal too will be displayed on the tea-stall first,” Mahadev said.
Mahadev played a role in Sanket looking beyond being a street vendor, like his father and grandfather.
Sanket made mangode (a type of moong pakoda) and vada pav at the tea stall where paan is also sold. But his father wanted him to move up in life. “I used to tell him that my father used to sell bananas and I sell tea and pakoda. So dream big,” Sargar senior added. “With today’s medal, he has changed his identity as well my identity.”
Sanket’s dream of winning a Commonwealth Games medal started when he saw Gururaja Poojary winning the silver medal in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games on TV while managing the tea stall and paan joint. “I remember that day. I was at the tea stall and saw Gururaj bhai winning the medal in the Commonwealth Games. I believed I could achieve the same feat too one day,” Sanket told The Indian Express on Friday.
His father was a fan of weightlifting coach Nana Sinhasane. The Digvijay Weightlifting Centre, run by Sinhasane, was located near their tea stall. Sanket enrolled at the centre in 2012. It would take Sanket six months to get used to the training schedule as well as manage academics and find time to help his father at the stall.
“My father had told me that he wants me to either study or pursue sport. While I started weight-lifting training, I also had to help him at the tea stall. My day would start at 6am at the shop, where I would prepare the items for the day before going for my training. After school, I would manage the paan joint also,” Sanket said.
The Sangli youngster would win a gold medal in the Maharashtra Junior Weightlifting Championship with a total lift of 194 Kgs in 49 kg weight category including 86 kg in snatch and 108 kg in clean and jerk in 2017. The youngster followed that by becoming the Maharashtra youth champion in 2018 followed by a bronze medal in the Junior National Youth Championship at Vizag the same year.
Coach Mayur Sinhasane, who has been training Sanket since 2017 after his father Nana fell ill, remembers Sanket’s early days in the sport. “My father knew that Sanket’s family cannot afford the money needed at a later stage for a weight-lifter. But as a coach, he saw something in Sanket. Sanket weighed around 35 Kgs at that time but had a good stamina. Initially, my father worked on increasing his stamina. Sanket would always be the first one to reach the academy. The only time he missed training was for a year when he was preparing for his Class 10 exams,” Mayur said.
Sanket was crowned Khelo India Youth Games and Khelo India University Games champion in early 2020, creating new records of 231kg and 244kg respectively. He also became the senior national champion in the 55kg category with a total lift of 243kg at Kolkata.
The onset of Covid-19 disrupted his training, like it did for so many other athletes around the country. “The Police post is just opposite their home and tea stall. So there was always someone keeping an eye on who was stepping out during the lockdown.So it meant that Sanket could only do light training at home. I sent a barbell and squat set to him. He trained on the first floor. So he had to train with caution. It resulted in a back injury to him,” Mayur remembered.
It took Sanket more than two months to recover from injury. The Maharashtra lifter once again became a senior national champion with a total lift of 247Kgs last year at the competition held in Patiala.
He had entertained thoughts of quitting the sport during the lockdown when the family’s income was hit and the back injury had put a question mark abou this fitness.
“It was a time (lockdown) when I thought about quitting the sport. There was almost no business at my father’s tea-stall and the practice at home meant that I suffered a back injury. But my father kept motivating me by showing old newspaper clips of my medal winning performances,” Sanket said.
Last year Sanket made it to the national camp and created a new snatch record in the Commonwealth Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where he lifted 113kg. Early this year, he defended his senior national title in Orissa before winning the gold medal in Singapore International, where he created a new Commonwealth and National record with a total lift of 256kg, including 113kg in snatch and 143 kg in clean and jerk.
“Prior to the inclusion in TOPS and national camp, my coach would spend money on my supplements and training and my father would spend from his savings too. When I joined the national camp, training under chief coach Vijay Sharma sir and seeing Olympic silver medalist Mirabai Chanu train motivated me,” Sanket said.
The CWG medal is a stepping stone for Sanket. But in heroes like Mirabai he has chosen the right role models.