A slight twist of the arm, almost invisible to an untrained eye, was the difference between a silver medal and fourth-place finish for Mirabai Chanu. The 24-year-old eventually fell short by one. One short of becoming the first Indian–and join an elite group of five lifters globally–to tally 200 in 49kg category. One short of finishing on the podium at the Asian Championship in Ningbo, China. But that’s just one part of the story. Chanu, ever so optimistic, sees a gain.
Last April, she had the Gold Coast crowd swooning over her en route to setting a personal best of 196kg at the Commonwealth Games. On Sunday, Chanu bettered her own record by 3kg. She lifted a total of 199kg (86 in snatch; 113 in clean and jerk) to finish level with China’s Zhang Rong (88 snatch, 111 clean and jerk). However, as per the international rules, a competitor with better snatch total is ranked higher in the overall classification.
Snatch has been the weaker of two segments for Chanu. And that cost her a medal on Sunday. Chanu settled for fourth place when a silver was there for the taking. In her last attempt, Chanu decided to lift iron more than two times her weight – 113kg in the clean and jerk segment. If successful, it would’ve taken her total to 201 – a target she had set for herself going into the championship. “The first part of my lift was perfect. I brought it up to my shoulders in one smooth motion,” Chanu says.
She even managed to complete the lift. But when she had to jerk the bar overhead, her arms weren’t locked out at the elbows. The faint movement of the elbows when she held the bar aloft was seen as a technical error, what they call a press-out in weightlifting, and the judges declared it a no-lift. “Had that lift counted, Mira’s total would have been 201kg and the silver medal would have been hers,” India coach Vijay Sharma says.
Instead, North Korea’s Song Gum-ri won the silver with a total of 200kg and China’s Hou Zhihui continued her dominance in this class with a combined lift of 208kg. “It’s a strange feeling – a little good, a little bad. Bad, because I couldn’t achieve the target I had set – to win a medal and lift 200kg,” Chanu says. “Good, because a few months ago, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to compete again.”
In mid-2018, Mirabai Chanu had given up hopes of competing again. A mysterious lower-back injury after the Commonwealth Games had ruled her out for rest of the year. When she did come back last October after a four-month rehab, Chanu could not lift more than 50kg in training. “From being in that state to almost lifting 200kg in competition is a big improvement,” Sharma says. It’s in this context that Chanu’s performance on Sunday should be seen.
Considering every country will be allowed to field just one athlete in each category, and taking into account Thailand’s self-imposed exile owing to a doping scandal, Chanu at present is among the top three lifters in 49kg class if you leave out one Chinese lifter (Hou is likely to get the Olympic berth ahead of Rong).
That would make her an Olympic medal contender but Chanu knows it won’t be so straightforward. “This tournament has given me a clear idea of what I need to work on in the build up to the Olympics. It is important I improve my scores in snatch,” Chanu says. “And it’s very important I avoid days like these; days when I am largely good but miss out on a medal due to tiniest of errors.”
Jhilli wins silver
Earlier in the day, Jhilli Dalabehera opened India’s medal account, claiming a silver medal in the women’s 45kg category. However, 45kg is not a Olympic weight category. Jhilli, a Junior World Championship bronze medallist, lifted 162kg (71kg+91kg) to finish second behind Vietnam’s Vuong Thi Huyen who lifted 168kg (76kg+92kg). The bronze medal went to Mary Flor Diaz of Philippines for her 158kg (69kg+89kg) effort.