Mirabai Chanu’s talent was first spotted by her brother. When the two of them would go foraging for firewood on the nearby hills, Mirabai could lift the stacks even her elder brother, Sanatomba Meitei, couldn’t.
The 26-year-old has emerged as the best weightlifting talent in India in almost two decades. Even though her early career was riddled with struggles – like travelling 20-30kms away every day to train – Mirabai never let them overwhelm her.
The fire was lit when she saw fellow Manipuri Kunjarani Devi perform at Athens 2004. Like every Manipuri girl, Mirabai wanted to become the next Kunjarani Devi. But not every Manipuri girl had the courage and discipline to follow in Kunjrani’s footsteps.
“She always has the passion to achieve big,” Sanatomba told PTI in 2017. “She never put herself under pressure and is always ice-cool, something that was evident in her flawless lift.”
Mirabai will go to Tokyo 2020, which begins on July 23, as one of India’s brightest medal hopes. We look at the important titles and achievements in her eventful journey in the sport:
2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games
Mirabai’s international breakthrough came at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, where Indians dominated the show in the 48kg category.
The then 19-year-old lifted a total of 170 to finish with a silver medal. Khumukcham Sanjita Chanu, two years senior to Mirabai, won the gold with a total of 173 kg.
As fate would have it, Kunjarani Devi was the coach as the two women from Manipur stole the show. “Sanjita and Mirabai were simply great,” she beamed.
2017 World Championships
In her first major event after the disappointment of Rio 2016 (when she failed in all her three attempts in clean and jerk), Mirabai Chanu bounced back to clinch the gold medal at the 2017 World Championships in Anaheim.
The Indian, who weighed a shade less than 48 kg at the time, lifted 85kg in snatch and 109kg in clean and jerk for a total of 194kg.
It was India’s first World Championship gold since Karnam Malleswari’s back-to-back wins in 1994 and 1995.
2018 Commonwealth Games
There was Mirabai Chanu, then there were the rest. The Indian smashed Commonwealth Games records and lifted a total of 26kg more than the second best to win gold at the Gold Coast Games in 2018.
She lifted 86 kgs in snatch and 110kg in clean and jerk for a total of 196kgs – all three figures were well over the previous Games record held by Augustine Nwaokolo of Nigeria in 2010.
Roilya Ranaivosoa of Mauritius claimed the silver with a total of 170kg and Sri Lanka’s Dinusha Gomes won the bronze with a lift of 155kg.
2021 Asian Championships
After a year of uncertainty, Mirabai kickstarted the Olympic season in 2021 with a bronze medal finish at the Asian Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Mirabai set a new world record of 119kg in clean and jerk and improved her personal best total to 205kg to win a podium finish. Her temperament was key as Mirabai had fluffed her first two attempts in snatch but came back strongly on the third and final lift to clinch the bronze.
“I was doing up to 120kg in my training in clean and jerk and went for the world record from the beginning,” Mirabai told Sportstar after her medal-winning effort. “It is a big achievement. Rewriting a world record is never easy. A lot of hard work goes into it. It will give me more confidence.”