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Karnam Malleswari won a bronze medal in the 69 kg weight category at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, making her the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal. This was also India's first medal in weightlifting at the big event and the country has been hoping for an Olympic medal in the sport ever since.
However, the Golden Girl from India- Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, a 26-year-old weightlifter from Manipur, could soon end the drought. The former world champion is currently ranked number three in the world and as recently as April 2021, broke the world record in the 'clean and jerk' event.
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In her early years, Mirabai realised her abilities while lifting firewood for her home but she was more inclined towards archery until she read about Kunjrani Devi, a former Indian weightlifter who lives in Imphal and is one of the most decorated women in Indian weightlifting history. Devi's achievements inspired her to pursue weightlifting.
Chanu’s father used to work in PWD and her mother ran a shop, but their income wasn't enough to support Mirabai as she had 5 other siblings. The training centre was 60 kms away from her house but these difficulties didn’t bother her and she continued her training.
Mirabai Chanu made her debut on the international arena at the age of 20 when she won a silver medal in the 48kg category at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Before stepping onto the international scene, Chanu had won the Bronze medal at Asian Junior Championship in 2012 and bettered it with a Gold at the Junior National Weightlifting in 2013.
In the 2016 national trials for the Rio Olympics, Chanu smashed former Indian weightlifter and her idol Kunjarani Devi's 12-year-old record, gaining her a spot on the national team for the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, she failed to complete any of her ‘clean and jerk’ attempts and only had one successful ‘snatch’.
Mirabai ended with a DNF (did not finish) and failed to win a medal, but she kept her positive attitude and made a comeback later in 2017 by winning the gold medal at the World Weightlifting Championships in Anaheim, USA. She was the first Indian weightlifter to do so in over two decades.
In 2018, Saikhom had a lower back ailment but in the following year, she made an incredible return in the World Championships in Thailand. She made the event memorable by breaking the 200kg barrier for the first time in her career, despite finishing fourth.
(With inputs from Umang Singh)
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