Mirabai Chanu, the toast of India currently following her silver medal finish in the 49-kg category in weightlifting at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, returned home to a rousing reception. The 26-year-old didn't just lift a total of 202kg (87kg+115kg) in the 49kg category to bag silver at Tokyo but also the mood of the nation as she redeemed herself following heartbreak at Rio 2016. Shortly after returning to her native Manipur, the Tokyo 2020 silver medalist spoke to SportsAdda in an exclusive chat and shared her trials and tribulations en-route to Olympic glory. Here are some of the excerpts from the interview.

You finally got to eat pizza after reaching home. How good did it taste considering that you had to sacrifice eating it for years to be in peak shape?

I actually had one right after the competition in Tokyo. I didn’t eat one in many years as I was on a diet plan to maintain my body weight. So, I had to discard all the junk food then, but after I won the silver, it was the first thing I did in celebration.

How was the reception back home in your village in Manipur?

Many people came to welcome me at the airport and there were celebrations everywhere. Even though there weren’t as many people due to the Covid restrictions, I was glad to see people leave everything aside just to come and cheer for me.

Not just Manipur, the entire country is celebrating your win.

I am very happy that I have won a silver medal. In fact, I’m happier that I got the first medal, not only for myself and Manipur but the whole of India in Tokyo on the very first day of the Games. That was very satisfying.

You lifted 115kg, which is more than double your body weight.  What was going through your mind and how did you do it?

I must admit that I was very nervous as there was this pressure of expectation. I knew the country was expecting a medal from me. Under pressure, I had a few doubts about whether I could deliver. But I remembered what I did during my training, tried to put pressure aside and perform to the best of my abilities.

At what point during the competition, were you certain that you were assured a medal?

It was when I lifted 115kg in Clean and Jerk, I realized that I had guaranteed myself the silver medal. But since Hou Zhihui lifted 7 kgs more in Snatch (she lifted 87kg and the Chinese had completed a 94kg lift), I knew I had to compete for the Gold. In my last attempt, I went for 117 kg which was the Olympic record in Rio. But I wasn’t able to execute the technique. But I am happy with the silver medal now.

You suffered a back injury not too long ago. How did you overcome that setback?

After I injured my back at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, it took me four months to recover and it was a very tough time. My coach suggested going to the USA for training. So I went there. I received all the help and support from my physio who helped me develop my overall performance leading me to compete at the Asian Championship and break the World Record.

India now has two women who are Olympic medallists from Manipur in Mary Kom and yourself. What is the secret behind the success of Manipur women?

There’s only effort and hard work which goes unnoticed. We work really hard to deliver on the expectations and achieve our dreams. We also try to stay focused as much as possible and never stop until the target has been achieved. So, there aren’t any special secrets as such.

You are the first woman to bag a medal at the Olympics in weightlifting since Karnam Malleswari won bronze in Sydney 21 years ago. How long will we have to wait to see the next woman medallist in weightlifting?

The potential is there and will improve in the coming years. We intend to have more female as well as male athletes competing in weightlifting and hopefully, we’ll have four to five more athletes in each division by the next Olympics.

Now that your event is over, who will you be rooting for among Indians in Tokyo?

I am supporting all our athletes competing right now. I know that Mary Kom and Lovlina Borgohain are performing their best in recent matches. So I will be rooting for them. However, I have nothing but best wishes for all the remaining participants. I am sure they will be able to deliver their best performance.

Written by: Sandilya Garimella

Featured photo: Twitter/SaikhomMirabaiChanu