'Mentally better prepared' - Mirabai Chanu's brother explains how she overcame Rio disappointment to win silver at Tokyo 2020

The Indian weightlifter won a silver medal in the women's 48kg category, India's first at the Tokyo Games.

By Soham Mukherjee & Deepti Patwardhan
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Saikhom Sanatomba Meitei, brother of Mirabai Chanu who became India's first medallist at Tokyo 2020, had already taken a holiday on July 24th as he badly wanted to catch his sister in action at Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The Army man, who is based out of Bengaluru, cheered along as Mirabai Chanu won silver in the women's 49kg weightlifting category at the Olympics on Saturday.

"I am speechless right now. These emotions can't be expressed right now. She left home saying that she would win a gold, but even a silver makes us very proud. It has still not sunk in, Meitei said in a chat with Olympics.com.

"She has been doing weightlifting since she was 15 years old. There was only aim to win an Olympic medal. But she got injured sometime back. That was really scary. We did not know whether she would be able to play again or not. But now after this win, my mind is blank, am so happy."

It was a medal that was born out of perseverance and sheer grit.

“We didn't have enough then. Mirabai and I used to go collect firewood from nearby hills. One day I could not lift the wood, Mirabai, who was quite young then (12) said she will lift it. And she carried it all the way home. It was like she has God-given-physical strength. I was the one who encouraged her to get into weightlifting,” Meitei recalled.

He mentioned that young Mirabai was very focussed and never threw in the towel despite facing many roadblocks, the first being in the distance between her home and the training centre in Imphal.

“The training centre used to be 20-30 kms away from our home. Our parents would give her 10-20 rupees for her journey. The village is very small and almost everyone knows everyone else. Early morning, trucks used to leave from the market square. We would know which of them is going towards her training centre and would send her with them. She never complained about it. She would go alone every day and was very hard-working,” Mirabai’s brother, who is four years elder, reminisced.

A very important aspect of an athlete’s development, especially during the growing age in nutrition. Mirabai did not come from a well-to-do background and thus, had to remain content with whatever her parents could provide and continue the path of progress having kept her dream to win an Olympic medal alive.

“When Mirabai started training and my parents understood she was very interested in weightlifting, their only concern was whether they would be able to provide her enough food and nutrition. She used to make do with bananas and things like that. Try and not eat too much because our family did not have much,” said Meitei.

Mirabai
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Her brother had to give up on his dreams in order to ensure that the family is in a position to support Mirabai’s training and nutrition.

“I played football from 2002-2006 but the family was struggling financially so I gave it up. I joined the Army when I was 17 to support the family,” he said.

At Rio 2016, Mirabai had a disappointing campaign. She was the only weightlifter who could not finish the event, failing to register a valid attempt in clean and jerk. But that failure only toughened her up, going into Tokyo 2020 with a steely determination.

“I think this time Mirabai was mentally better prepared for the Olympics. Maybe in Rio, she got a little overawed by the occasion,” he pointed.

The Indian weightlifter went on to win an Olympic medal with a combined lift of 202kg (87kg in snatch and 115kg in clean and jerk) - the crowning glory in a career that was built on struggles.