In the early 1990s, Mizoram’s Lalneihtluanga was a known name on the Indian boxing circuit. A national junior champion, he had a six-year winning streak at the senior level in the All-India YMCA Boxing Championship. However, early marriage and unemployment saw him hang up his gloves. As the family grew, so did Lalneihtluanga’s desperation. Eventually, the young father joined the Public Works Department as a Muster Roll labourer. These days, he repairs and limewashes buildings in Aizawl. Earlier he used to tar roads in the Mizoram capital.
On Tuesday morning, Lalneihtluanga’s 15-year-old son Jeremy Lalrinnunga became India’s first gold medallist in Youth Olympics history by achieving his personal best of 274 Kg, just 1 kg short of the senior national record, to win the men’s 62 Kg weightlifting gold. On hearing the news, the first thought that came to Lalneihtluanga’s mind was: Unlike him, his son wouldn’t fade away as a prodigal junior.
“My father was a farmer, I took up boxing thinking I will get a job. After I won a silver and gold at the nationals, I was hopeful of getting a job. I also got married and had to support the family. There was no option, I had to apply as a Muster Roll labourer in the PWD. I am a skilled Grade 1 labourer and get Rs 370 daily. He promised us a medal before leaving for Argentina and this gold medal is bigger than all the medals won in my career,” shared 43-year-old Lalneihtluanga.
“My work includes repairing of PWD buildings apart from limewashing. When Jeremy returns, we will welcome him with a newly whitewashed home. That’s the best we can do for a world champion.”
Jeremy’s stint with weightlifting began when he was inducted in state academy in Aizawl in 2011. The then eight-year-old would train under coach Malsawma learning the weightlifting technique with water pipes and bamboo sticks. “We used to train the kids with 5m long and 20mm wide water pipes and 5m long bamboo sticks so that their basics were strong,” shares Malsawma.
Eight months after he started training, Jeremy was among three boys selected for the Army Sports Institute of Pune, which also meant that the nine-year-old had to leave home.
The youngster trained under coach Zarzokima at the ASI and set his first national record when he won the gold medal at the sub-junior nationals in Patna in 2016 with a lift of 90kg in snatch and 108kg in clean and jerk. The same year saw Jeremy winning the silver medal at the World Youth Weightlifting Championship in Malaysia with a combined effort of 235kg. Earlier this year, he won the silver in the youth category with a national record of 250kg at the Asian Youth and Junior Championships in Uzbekistan. In the trials for the Youth Olympics, Jeremy lifted a total weight of 273kg and set two youth and junior national records. “When Jeremy joined ASI, he weighed just 28kg. As a kid, he would initially miss home but the fact that there the three Mizoram boys trained together made him feel better. Now he has shown his explosive power in big competitions. When he lifted 273kg in trials, he told us that he can improve upon it and he showed that in his effort in Argentina,” shares the 42-year-old Zarzokima.
With his eldest brother working as a driver and second eldest brother opting out of school, it was tough for the family to send Jeremy to Pune. With the medal at the Youth Olympic Games, the family knows that now he will spend more time away from home, training for the bigger goal of winning a medal at the Olympics.
“When he was selected for the ASI, we told ourselves that it was like sending him to school. All the five brothers share a close bond and he would call and tell us about the medals he won. Today was also the same and if winning a medal at the Olympics means staying away from us for longer, we are ready for it,” Jeremy’s mother Lalmuanpuii said.