Mirabai's tale: A story of resilience and triumph, poised for Paris Olympics

Waari Singbul Network *

 Mirabai Chanu with her mother
Mirabai Chanu with her mother

After a grueling six-month journey of rehabilitation from a hip injury, Mirabai Chanu, the esteemed Indian women weightlifter, has made a resounding comeback to the competitive weightlifting scene. Her remarkable performance at the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) World Cup 2024 not only marked her return to the sport but also secured her qualification for the prestigious Paris 2024 Olympics.

The 29-year-old Manipuri weightlifter sensation finished third in Group B of the women's 49kg (and 11th overall) at the IWF World Cup to book her berth at the Paris Games.

Mirabai's path to Paris was paved with dedication and perseverance as she adhered to the rigorous qualification criteria set by the IWF. Her participation in at least five major events, including the World Championships and the 2024 World Cup, ensured her eligibility for the Olympic stage. Currently ranked second in the Olympic Qualification Rankings (OQR), Mirabai's return to form signals her readiness for the upcoming challenge.

Mirabai Chanu is one of the finest Indian weightlifters with an Olympic silver medal, a world champion and a three-time Commonwealth Games gold medal under her belt. Mirabai’s silver at Tokyo 2020 was only the second Olympic medal by an Indian weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari.

Mirabai's return to the competitive arena signifies the end of a resilient six-month period. Her previous outing was at the Asian Games in September 2023, where she faced a challenging scenario after sustaining a hip injury.

During her last clean and jerk attempt, Mirabai aimed to lift 117kg to surpass Thailand's Thanyathon Sukcharoen for the bronze medal. Despite her determination, she fell short in completing the lift and had to be carried away from the podium by her coach Vijay Sharma.

Following a hip joint injury sustained at the Asian Games in September 2023, Mirabai sought the expertise of Dr. Dinshaw Pardiwala, a renowned orthopedic surgeon based in Mumbai. Despite his meticulous approach and successful treatment of MS Dhoni's knee, Dr. Pardiwala faced difficulty in identifying the exact cause of Mirabai's hip joint pain.

Consequently, the surgeon, affiliated with Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai, advised Mirabai to abstain from competition and undergo a period of rest. This hiatus would allow time to determine whether the pain would subside naturally or persist.

For Mirabai, this raised concerns about her participation in a second Olympic Games. Yet, rather than succumbing to a second bout of depression akin to her experience after failing to complete any clean-and-jerk lifts at her debut Olympic Games in Rio 2016, she chose a different path forward.

Despite lingering doubts, Mirabai remained committed to her training regimen, focusing on upper body exercises to stay in shape and maintain a positive mindset. Throughout this challenging period, her mother, a constant source of inspiration, provided unwavering support. She traveled to Patiala to care for Mirabai for two and a half months from October to December 2023, offering encouragement and spiritual strength.

 Mirabai Chanu  at Golden Temple in Amritsar
Mirabai Chanu at Golden Temple in Amritsar

Together, they prayed to their local deity, Ebudhou Khamlangba, and visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Additionally, Mirabai maintained regular contact with Dr. Pardiwala, who monitored her progress through video calls and recommended suitable exercises every 15 to 20 days.

Since clinching the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, injuries have been a persistent hurdle for the 29-year-old weightlifter. Although she celebrated a significant victory with a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, her journey has been marked by struggles to maintain consistency.

A standout moment came when she overcame a potentially serious injury, with her wrist giving way mid-lift, yet still managed to secure a silver medal at the 2022 World Championships. However, her participation in major events in 2023 was limited, with a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Asian Championships and a distressing injury prematurely ending her campaign at the Asian Games.

During November and December, Mirabai explored free squats, an exercise engaging the hips and legs. To her delight, she experienced no discomfort while performing this exercise. Encouraged by this outcome, she proceeded to test herself with light-weighted squats, which yielded similar results. Subsequently, she updated her orthopaedic surgeon on her progress, who, upon observing her improvement and recovery, cleared her for full-time training.

In January, Mirabai embarked on a month-long rehabilitation program in St. Louis, USA, under the guidance of her long-time coach, Dr. Aaron Horschig. The investment in this endeavor paid off handsomely, as evidenced by Mirabai's smooth lifts observed on Monday. This success has reignited her confidence, reaffirming her belief in her ability to contend for a second consecutive Olympic media.

Despite facing daunting odds, Mirabai is undeterred. Returning from injury and with limited competition experience, she faces tough challenges in the 49kg category, particularly with athletes like China's Hou Zhihui setting world records, and Thailand's Khambao Surodchana and Sukcharoen emerging as formidable contenders. Yet, Mirabai's tenacity is unquestionable. She is determined to give her all, ensuring each of her six lifts counts towards her pursuit of success.

Mirabai is set to depart for La Ferté-Milon in France, around a month ahead of her event, to commence preparations for what promises to be the most formidable competition of her career in Paris. Renowned for opening India's medal tally in Tokyo, expectations remain high for her performance this time around.

 Construction of a shrine dedicated to Lord Ebudhou Khamlangba at Nongpok Kakching in Imphal East
Construction of a shrine dedicated to Lord Ebudhou Khamlangba at Nongpok Kakching in Imphal East

In her hometown of Manipur, nestled within her beloved village of Nongpok Kakching in Imphal East, a shrine dedicated to Lord Ebudhou Khamlangba is nearing completion. Mirabai's roots run deep in this community, where as a child, she assisted her mother in gathering firewood for a local roadside tea stall.

The temple in this sacred sanctuary, a gift from Mirabai herself, holds profound significance for the villagers and Mirabai’s family. Set to be unveiled during the forthcoming summer, its inauguration coincides with the traditional Lai Haraoba festival — a sacred ritual honouring the local deities.

Mirabai, ever devoted to her roots, expresses her heartfelt desire to attend the shrine's inauguration. She intends to offer prayers for success at the Paris Games, her spirit buoyed by the support of her community.

Amidst her aspirations for the Olympic glory, Mirabai also harbours a fervent wish for peace to prevail in her homeland. She earnestly appeals to the people of all communities across Manipur to unite in offering their love and blessings, believing that their collective support will propel her towards victory in her third Olympic endeavour.

* Waari Singbul Network sent this article to
The sender can be contacted at waarisingbul(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 08 April 2024

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