The last nine months have been nothing short of a nightmare for India’s two time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sanjita Chanu. The weightlifter was provisionally suspended by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) after she tested positive for banned substances. Her hopes of a turnaround went up in air when her B sample also tested positive. She vehemently denied committing any doping offences and finally her stand was vindicated when the IWF decided to revoke the provisional suspension late on Tuesday night. A detailed judgment is expected later this week.
An ecstatic Sanjita spoke to Firstpost from her home in Imphal after her provisional suspension was lifted.
How relieved are you after the provisional suspension has been lifted by the IWF?
It was 3 am. I was sleeping when I received a phone call from my brother-in-law. I decided not to take the call because I thought he had called me by mistake. But when the phone kept ringing, I decided to answer it and he was the one who gave me the good news. After nine months of waiting for justice, I had given up hopes. I thought my weightlifting career was over. I was thinking of even quitting my job with the Railways. But with the taint of doping removed against my name, I am willing to get back and train. I had stopped following weightlifting results. I watched a bit of weightlifting action of the Asian Games and felt so frustrated. Every time I saw them lifting weights, I felt I should have been there. This news is like a rebirth for me.
You have lost crucial nine months. Are you still hopeful of making it to Tokyo Olympics?
I was so frustrated with whatever was happening, I did not feel like training. I had competed in the 53kg class in the Commonwealth Games where I won the gold medal. But in the last nine months, I have lost weight and currently weigh just 49.5 kg. The weight categories for the Olympics have also undergone a change. The 53 kg weight category has been scrapped which means I can compete in either the 55kg category or the 49kg category. (Former world champion Mirabai Chanu is expected to compete in this weight division). Though I have not yet spoken to India's national coach Vijay Sharma, I have received a call from the secretary of the Indian Weightlifting Federation asking me if I will like to join the national camp. I am keen to join the camp and then take a call on my future assignments. The next qualifier for the Olympics will be the Asian Championships to be staged in China from 20-30 April. I am a fighter and I will work really hard.
Who were the people who supported you during this difficult phase of your life?
It was my brother — Bijen — who is currently preparing for his civil services examination who stood behind me. Other than my family members, I hardly had any support from my own weightlifting fraternity. No one was willing to believe me that I had not taken any banned substances. Bijen confronted me and asked me if I was telling the truth and once he was convinced, he took up the cudgels on my behalf. He was there at the IWF hearing in Budapest and presented my case.
Legally we were given two options after the B sample tested positive. One was to admit that we had inadvertently taken a banned substance which would have meant backtracking from our earlier stance of vehemently denying having taken any banned drugs. In this case, I would have faced a minimum of two years of ban. The other option was to challenge the finding of the laboratory report and stick to our gun that my sample was either tampered with or a sample of some other lifter has been marked as mine. Bijen worked meticulously to collect evidence of how there were gross irregularities in the collection of samples by the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) during the 2017 World Championships held in the USA.
What are the next legal steps in this case?
We are awaiting the full verdict of the IWF Hearing Panel which is expected in the next couple of days. The verdict will also be sent to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). If WADA has any reservations about the verdict passed by the IWF, they can take up the case and issue sanctions on their own. But we are hopeful that there is sufficient merit in our defence that will convince WADA that I was innocent. Hope there will be some punishment against the people because of whom I have lost invaluable time to prepare for the Olympics. I could not take part in the Asian Games and I also lost out on the Arjuna Award.
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2019 08:14:04 IST