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The Atypical Weightlifter: Mirabai Chanu On World Championships, Injuries And Pizza

The cheerful Manipuri can haul over a 100 kg, but does not seem to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Mirabai Chanu speaks to the press after winning the women's 49kg gold at the National Games.
Mirabai Chanu speaks to the press after winning the women's 49kg gold at the National Games. Outlook

On the afternoon of Friday, September 30, Mirabai Chanu sat on a white sofa in a lounge near the weightlifting arena at the Mahatma Mandir Convention Centre in Gandhinagar. The Tokyo Olympics silver medalist and Commonwealth gold medalist had just coasted to a gold in the 49kg category. The lounge allowed her some tranquility from the dangerous virus called Selfie Seekers.  

Not that Mirabai seemed to mind the attention. She is just 28 and enjoying the spotlight. A few days ago, she appeared on Kaun Banega Crorepati. Her tone does not betray any world-weariness. Childlike giggles precede nearly every answer of hers to journalists. On Friday, these contrasted with the loud thuds of falling weights in the background, as the weightlifting competition continued just a few feet from the lounge.  

Sporting golden Olympic rings on her ears, Mirabai opened up to journalists about a left wrist niggle, and her preparations for the World Championships, to be held in Bogota in December.  

“For about a month, I have been having a slight problem in my left wrist,” she said, when asked why she chose to forgo her third lift in the snatch as well as clean-and-jerk categories. “I got an MRI, and due to the load during training, there is an injury. The medal was virtually assured after my completed lifts, so I avoided the final tries. I’m focusing on the World Championships and didn’t want to aggravate my pain.”  

Mirabai says the injury is not serious. But she hasn’t recovered fully yet. Physiotherapy is going to be important.  

“I train seven hours daily, out of which an hour is for physio and rehab,” she said. “The body doesn’t become strong with weight training alone, physiotherapy and strength training are equally important.”  

There has been soft pressure from the higher-ups for stars to participate at the National Games. Asked how, despite her busy calendar, she decided to compete here, Mirabai offered a straight-batted reply.  

“I competed at the National Games to gain confidence, and know what I need to work on,” she said. “The National Games are also important to me because I wanted to represent Manipur. Though this is my second National Games, it is the first time I won a gold for Manipur. What could be better?”  

The Games allowed her one more innocent indulgence. Though she has participated in some of the biggest events globally, she had yet to attend an opening ceremony.  

“Before this, whether at the Olympics, or the Commonwealth Games, I couldn’t go for the opening ceremony. My competition would be the very next day,” she said. “This time I was the flagbearer for Manipur, so it felt wonderful being at the opening ceremony.”  

Perhaps, she knew she wouldn’t be greatly challenged at the National Games, and that is why she could freely enjoy the opening ceremony? Again, Mirabai chose the respectable answer.  

“I never think in terms of a field as being tough or easy. I come prepared to give my best wherever I perform, regardless of the competition,” she said. “I see it as an opportunity to make improvements in my game. So, that is not the reason I attended the opening ceremony. I attended it because I had not been to one.”  

After the National Games, Mirabai will train in Patiala. She will next compete directly at the World Championships. Her target is to haul 90kg in snatch and improve her world record of 119kg in clean-and-jerk.  

After making history in Tokyo, Mirabai had confessed her love of pizza. Asked if she would allow herself a slice after the National Games, she said, “After CWG, my friend got me a lot of pizza, but I did not have any. I want to control my weight. Maybe I will have some after the World Championships.”  

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