ON FRIDAY, after nearly 12 years, a weightlifting national record in the women’s 48 kg category will not be held in the name of Kunjarani Devi.
At the trials to select who will take India’s two quota spots for the Rio Olympics, Mirabai Chanu had lifted 85kg in the snatch and 107kg in the clean and jerk for a total lift of 192 kg. Chanu matched Devi’s record of 107 kg in the clean and jerk and bettered the old record for total lift by 2 kg. This wasn’t the first time Chanu had erased a mark set by Kunjarani Devi, now a coach with the junior team.
At the Asian Championships in Tashkent in April this year, she had broken Devi’s record in the snatch with a lift of 84kg and matched the Indian record for total lift with a combined total of 190kg. But apart from shattering a long standing record, which incidentally saw Devi finish fourth at the Athens Olympics, there is additional significance to Chanu’s effort.
With her performance at the selection trials in Patiala on Friday, the 22-year-old has quietly crept into contention for a medal at the Rio Olympics. Chanu’s effort would have been enough to win a bronze at the London Olympics. Even while keeping in mind that the standard of weightlifting has steadily improved, Chanu’s lift is still impressive. If it had been recorded at an international competition, Chanu’s total of 192 kg would have been the fourth best lift of the year.
China’s Tan Yayun has the best lift recorded in international competition with a total of 198kg (88kg in snatch+110kg in clean and jerk) kg.
Ryang Chun Hwa of North Korea, who won bronze at London, is second best with a total lift of 196 kg(85kg +111kg). Khamsri Panida of Thailand is just ahead of the Indian with a lift of 194kg (84kg+110kg).
There are also three other lifters Thi Thuy Nguyen (192kg), Chen Wei- Ling (191kg), Agustiani Sri Wahyuni(191kg) within one kilo of Chanu’s lift. Incidentally all the lifters recorded these lifts at the Asian Championships in Tashkent.
Competition at the Rio Olympics will undoubtedly be stiffer. Tan Yayun, will likely not even be China’s representative at this year’s competition. She finished only second at the Chinese Olympic trials held before the Asian Championships.
Likely to feature will be 18-year-old Hou Zhihui, who lifted a total of 210kg (94kg +116kg) at the Olympic trials. Indeed China would be sure to have wrapped up all three medals Jiang Huihua, who finished third in the trials with a total of 200kg, is the defending world champion.
However, China can send only four competitors in all categories at the Olympics, which means that only a single participant from the country is likely.
This leaves Chanu ostensibly in with a shot at the silver or bronze medals at Rio. Apart from her rivals among the weightlifting top lifts this year will be Japan’s Hiromi Miyake, who won a silver at the 2012 Olympics and a bronze at the 2015. Going for her fourth Olympics, Miyake recorded a total lift of 193kg (85kg+108kg) at the World Championships in Houston last November.
With so many of her rivals in a tight cluster, Chanu and her coaches know she would have to add a couple of kilos to her total lift in the fifty days she has before the Olympics.
This would be no easy feat considering Chanu is already at the higher end of her physical potential having added 22kg to her total lift at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. But coach Vijay Sharma says Chanu will give it her best shot.
“At the Olympics a lot will depend on how you perform on the stage. Right now Mirabai has achieved her potential. In Rio if she can go a little beyond that and has a bit of luck, she could win a bronze at least,” Sharma adds.