Tokyo Olympics: An emotional homecoming for India's Mirabai Chanu

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu hugs her father after arriving in Imphal, Manipur. (PTI)
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu hugs her father after arriving in Imphal, Manipur. (PTI)

New Delhi - Chanu is the second Manipuri athlete after boxer Mary Kom to taste success in the world's greatest sporting event

By Joydeep Sen Gupta

Published: Wed 28 Jul 2021, 6:22 PM

Last updated: Wed 28 Jul 2021, 6:37 PM

It’s party time at Nongpok village, located at the foothills of Imphal East district in Manipur, a tiny north-eastern state in India.

Manipur has been ravaged by ethnic conflict for decades.

And yet, athletes from the state have been triumphing over mighty odds to bring sporting glory for India on the international stage.

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu is now Manipur’s newest sporting icon.

The 26-year-old Chanu, who won the silver medal at the Tokyo Games last Saturday, is only the second Indian to win an Olympic weightlifting medal since Karnam Malleswari’s bronze at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games.

Chanu is the second Manipuri athlete after boxer Mary Kom to taste success in the world’s greatest sporting event.

No wonder that Chanu's newly constructed village house has been overflowing with relatives, neighbours, friends, dignitaries and ministers since her momentous win.

The celebrations have heightened since Tuesday evening after Chanu returned home from Tokyo.

It was an emotional homecoming for Chanu whose Tokyo success was built on the 2016 Rio heartbreak when she managed to lift only one out of her six attempts in the 48-kg category.

Amid the celebrations, Chanu reflected on her long journey that brought glory to her state.

“My family members are preparing a grand feast for my success. However, my backstory, like many of my peers from Manipur, is gut-wrenching. Perhaps, I’d have still been collecting firewood in my village had I not caught the attention of Anita Chanu, a former international weightlifter and coach over 12 years ago,” Chanu told on Wednesday.

Chanu revealed the secret about Manipur’s success in producing top-notch athletes.

“We pack a punch that few Indians can. Our explosive strength belies our puny structure. We’re blessed with a low centre of gravity, which makes us a winner in either individual or team sports such as weightlifting, boxing or football,” she said.

Chanu felt she could have won the gold in Tokyo if she wasn’t overwhelmed by the occasion. The failure of the Rio Olympics was also playing in her mind, she admitted.

“I failed in the last clean and jerk lift of 117 kg, which is disappointing. But as a sportsperson, we must take these failures in our stride as they spur us on to win more laurels for our beloved country,” she said.

Saikhom Ongi Tombi Leima, Chanu’s mother, was confident that her daughter would shine at the Olympics after she had left for Tokyo.

“Contrary to sceptics, we were never in doubt that she (Chanu) would make Manipur and India proud,” she said.

Chanu shot to fame at the age of 20 when she won the silver medal in the 48-kg category at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

And two years later at the national trials for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Chanu broke a 12-year-old national record held by Kunjarani Devi -- one of Manipur’s greatest athletes and a seven-time World championships silver medallist – only to suffer heartbreak at the Summer Games a few months later.

However, Chanu bounced back with a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games before singing her redemption song in Tokyo.

It’s raining cash awards for Chanu, a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of an athlete who was born into a poor family and collected firewood that her mother used as fuel.

Chanu’s Tokyo triumph would further fuel the sporting ambitions of many more young athletes in Manipur.

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