Sports

It was Mirabai vs Mirabai, and there could be only one winner


Mirabai Chanu entered the fray for the snatch lift after everyone had ended up lifting their best. Everyone.

Her starting weight, at 84 kg, was a neat eight kilograms better than the next best lift. No one even attempted anything more than 76kg. Chanu ended up lifting 88, TWELVE more than Mauritius’ Marie Ranaivosova. It was Chanu’s own personal best, and easily a Commonwealth Games record. In fact, she broke that record (her own from 2018) in both her successful snatch lifts.

The snatch is a very technical, single-motion lift, and is traditionally the weaker part of Chanu’s repertoire – this difference underlined Chanu’s utter domination over the rest of the field.

In the clean and jerk, where she already held the world record, it was even more absurd. Once again, she started after everyone wrapped up. Starting at 109kg, she ended up with 113, SIXTEEN better than the next most successful lift. Her overall was at 201, TWENTY NINE KILOGRAMS above silver. Both were new CWG records (beating her own, of course). As you do.

“I did get a little bored waiting for my turn at the start and towards the end when I had to stay warmed up,” she chuckled after the event, the difference in personality during-and-after ever so stark. Gone is the stone hard look of concentration, and out comes the cute little dances and the big ol’ smile. “But you feel good, you know, when you are the last one out. That just means you’re lifting more [than anyone]”.

Below her, others jostled for positions, playing mind games, increasing weights abruptly in order to throw their competitors off their game. Mirabai couldn’t be bothered less. That’s the thing when you are at the very top of your game – the reigning Olympic silver medalist was just competing with herself. Like Jordan Sakkas, a heavyset Welsh lifter said with a chuckle on the sidelines, “The competition is really tight. You’ve just got to completely disregard [Chanu], though.”

It’s not just the numbers. It’s everything about her. The casual walk up to the stage: where everyone else bounded on, pumping themselves up. The five seconds she takes at the chalk holder, looking over it, rubbing her hands almost absent-mindedly with the chalk. The slow walk to the extreme right corner of the stage. The bow to the bar. The first mini-roar before stepping onto the stage. The second proper-roar at the bar. Once lifted and dropped, there’s no sound, no fist pumping. Just a quiet smile. Everything is just so… calmly done. She knows its Mirabai vs Mirabai and there ain’t nothing anyone can do about it.

“Athletes pump themselves to wake themselves up. I do it too, but while I’m warming up. After that all I do is try to relax.”

“Everyone knows that the CWG was an easy competition,” she says, without an ounce of arrogance. Stating facts isn’t arrogance, is it? “But I’m really happy with how I performed. It’s the best I’ve ever lifted in a snatch [in an international competition], and I’m very happy about it.”

“Whenever I enter such competitions, be it CWG or Worlds or whatever, I always keep in mind the weights I want to lift, that my coach has given me. My aim is always to pass that, and get six clean lifts.”

When she is so far ahead of others, though, she can afford to keep it to four clean ones. There’s a touch of disappointment when talking about those last attempts in snatch and clean-and-jerk, but the gold medal hanging around her neck quickly dissipates all that. She also believes that what happened here has given her confidence ahead of an event she considers more important (because it’s way tougher), the World Championships in December. “I set the clean and jerk world record there, the aim now is to beat it.”

Meanwhile, in Birmingham, the crowd at NEC Hall 1 were brilliant: loud, raucous, and unflinching in their support. Earlier, they had lifted Noorin Gulam of England to a new British record of 73 kg in the snatch, but what Chanu was doing was a whole different level of elite. They lapped it up.

The “Indiaaa, Indiaaa” cheers were loud, but they were equally matched by the whoops and yelps and whistles and howls from everyone else. The appreciation was universal. By the end of the event, the floorboards of the stands were shaking like this was La Bombonera. Even the volunteers and event co-ordinators stood around awestruck. “She’s awesome, isn’t she,” one said.

“The crowd was awesome,” said Chanu. “It gives so much energy when they are so loud and encouraging!”

The thing is, when you watch it live, the unrealness of it all takes time to sink in. Chanu is 49 kg, 5 foot nothing. She lifts just about two times her bodyweight over her head in one single motion, with a big grin, like you and I would lift a water bottle. It may sound like a stupid comparison, but it’s how easy she makes it look. Unless you are a regular at the lifting sections of the gym, can you truly comprehend just how heavy 88 kilograms is? Or 113? She smiles when someone mentions it, “it’s just what I do.”

Now that India’s first gold from the Birmingham Games is in the bag, it’s time to unwind. “Look at me! I haven’t anything at all these past few days to make weight. Now it’s time to eat. Perhaps a pizza or two,” she laughs.

For now, it’s the unique Indian-English chants that the Brummie Indian crowd chanted that will remain long in the memory. “Mirabai, Mirabai, Oi, Oi, Oi!”





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