Tokyo Olympics 2020: Mirabai Chanu confident of podium finish, aims to undo Rio failure

“I am confident of challenging the Chinese. At the end of the day, you have to just lift weights. The absence of North Korea will be a definite help, and I am confident of making up for my non-performance in Rio and return with a medal,” Chanu said.

Shantanu Srivastava April 30, 2021 15:56:15 IST
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Mirabai Chanu confident of podium finish, aims to undo Rio failure

New Delhi: Five years have passed since that forgettable day in Rio de Janeiro, but Mirabai Chanu has not forgotten the meltdown. Chanu was gregarious and smiling at the virtual media conference on Thursday, but each time she dwelled on the road ahead, the lingering image of her failed attempts appeared in the rearview. It is an anomaly in an otherwise brilliant career, and the 26-year-old is confident to undo it with a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics, set to begin on 23 July.

Chanu admitted to being “completely broken” after her non-performance in the Brazilian capital. Defeated and downcast, she had to be pulled out of her spiral by psychologists at SAI who helped her see the bigger picture.

“I was really disappointed and completely broken after Rio. I was so low that I had to seek the help of SAI psychologists. They told me that the pressure of being a medal hopeful and the fact that it was my first Olympics had played on my mind,” she said.

To her credit, Mirabai snapped out of the gloom rather soon and won a World Championships gold the very next year. Next, she aced the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (2018), winning the gold with a combined lift of 196 kgs, and in the process, smashing the Games record by an incredible 21-kg margin.

However, a mysterious lower back pain after the event kept her out of action for almost a year, forcing her to skip the 2018 Asian Games. Upon her return, she finished fourth at the Asian Championships in China with a lift of 199 kgs, and finally breached the 200 kg-mark at the World Championships in Pattaya last year.

Her confidence high, she was gearing up for the Olympics before COVID-19 stopped the world in its tracks. The Asian Championships were postponed, and soon the Olympics were moved to 2021. Chanu was restricted to indoor bodyweight workout at NIS Patiala, and upon resuming training, her back pain resurfaced.

“I didn’t touch weights for 3-4 months due to lockdown, but I kept training my muscles as much as I could indoors. On the upside, my body got some time to recover, but when I started training again, I got injured,” she said.

Chanu went to the USA in November-December to train under renowned physiotherapist Aaron Horschig, and that seems to have given a fresh wind to her career. Horschig identified asymmetry in her gluteus during the lifts, and also noticed mobility restrictions in her left shoulder that was putting undue stress on her right shoulder, leading to chronic pain.

Once the issue was addressed, Chanu started lifting more confidently, and the result was a 205 kg lift at the Asian Championships in Tashkent earlier this month. It remains her personal best, and would have comfortably won her gold in Rio five years back – Sopita Tanasan of Thailand won the yellow metal in 48 kg class at Rio Games with an effort of 200 kgs. Chanu also broke the clean and jerk world record (119 kgs) en route her third-place finish in the Uzbek capital, putting her in an excellent mental space ahead of the game.

“Yes, I am very confident. I don’t think too much of the expectations. I just try to repeat my training performance at competitions. I don’t get nervous that easily now; even at the Asian Championships, I failed in my first two lifts in snatch, but I kept telling myself to make it count in the last attempt,” she recalled.

The demons of Rio did, once again, appear, but this time Chanu was ready. Her final, and the lone successful, snatch attempt in Tashkent was a 86kg lift, two kilogrammes shy of her personal best, but good enough to take her to the podium.

“I have changed a lot since 2016 failure. I am mentally stronger and also working with a SAI psychologist.

“I’ve changed my training in these five years. I have addressed each of my weaknesses. I have assessed which areas to work on, and now I am raring to go. I have some technical deficiency in my snatch, and I am working hard on that. I would like to once again go to USA to iron out these issues.”

The problem is, with COVID-19 situation forcing countries to suspend flights from India, Chanu’s plans have once again gone awry. She is, however, hopeful of a top-three result in Tokyo, where, not unlike Rio, she will be a medal contender.

Apart from her form and confidence, the absence of North Korea from the Games has also given her a proverbial shot in the arm, but she is bound to get very stiff competition from world-class Chinese lifters.

“I am confident of challenging the Chinese. At the end of the day, you have to just lift weights. The absence of North Korea will be a definite help, and I am confident of making up for my non-performance in Rio and return with a medal,” she signed off.

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