Chanu Saikhom Mirabai is a name that is on every Indian’s lips these days. The 26-year-old has become the first Indian weightlifter to win the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Indian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu made 1.3 billion Indians citizens proud after she opened the country’s account in Tokyo Olympics 2020 and bagged a silver medal in the Women’s 49kg category. Finishing the event with a total lift of 202 kg, she has become the first Indian weightlifter to win a silver medal at the Olympic Games. Here is all you need to know about Mirabai Chanu.

From carrying firewood to clinching Olympic silver, Mirabai Chanu’s story is one of immense courage and a new inspiration for many women in the country. let us look at this starlet journey who made nation proud!

Who is Mirabai Chanu?

Chanu Saikhom Mirabai or Mira Bai Chanu is a 26-year-old weightlifter from the state of Manipur. she has had a significant presence in international events since 2014 in the 48 kg category, having won the World Championships and multiple medals at the Commonwealth Games in the past. For those unaware, she is also a Padma Shri awardee and has been conferred with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award by the Government in 2018 for her contribution to sports.

Chanu had won the silver medal in the women’s 48 kg weight class at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow; she went on to break the games record enroute to the gold medal at the 2018 edition of the event held in Gold Coast. Prior to the 2020 Summer Olympics, her biggest achievement came in 2017, when she won the gold medal at World Weightlifting Championships held in Anaheim, California.

Early life

Saikhom Mira bai Chanu was born on 8 August 1994 in Nongpok Kakching, Imphal, in the north eastern state of Manipur. She comes from a Meitei family-which is an ethnic group of people native to the state of Manipur in north eastern India.

Born in a poor family, Mirabai was the youngest of six siblings. Her father Saikhom Kriti Meitei used to work as a construction worker in the state public works department in Imphal, while her mother Saikhom Tombi Devi ran a small tea-snack shop at the village. The salary of her father was just about enough for hand-to-mouth existence.

She often used to accompany her brothers to the nearby jungle to collect firewood that the family used as fuel. on one such trip, Mirabai went with her brother Saikhom Santomba Meitei, who was 16 at that time, into the hills to collect firewood. They both collected a bundle of firewood, and Sanatomba tried to lift the bunch on his head but he wasn’t able to, but Mirabai could easily carry a bunch of firewood on her head which surprised her family member.

Firewood carrier to Weightlifter

When she was 12, Mirabai then visited the sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Imphal at the Khuman lampak Stadium. She went on the lookout for archery training but could not find any on that day. Incidentally, she then saw some clips of another female weightlifter from Manipur Kunjarani Devi, who was a seven-time medallist at the world championships, winning gold at the 2006 Melbourne Common wealth games and got inspired by her. Mirabai now knew where her future lay.

Mirabai eventually found herself under the tutelage of coach Anita Chanu. She would travel around 40km over hilly terrains daily for her training. At the training centre, Mirabai first used bamboo trunks as barbells to hone her technique and after six months switched to conventional tools. Two years later, she made it to the national camp. A tenacious Mirabai went on to win titles at the state level in the sub-junior category and then clinched her first national medal in the junior category in 2011.

Soon after, she earned her national team call-up and ultimately came under the guidance of her idol Kunjarani Devi. Then came her first test of the international stage at the 2014 common wealth games, where she won a silver and announced herself to the world.

Career overview

  • Chanu’s first major breakthrough came at the Glasgow edition of the Commonwealth Games; she won the silver medal in the 48 kg weight category.
  • Chanu qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics in the women’s 48 kg category. However, In 2017, she won the Gold medal in the Women’s 48 kg category by lifting a competition record 194 kg in total in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships held at Anaheim, CA, United States.
  • Chanu lifted a total of 196 kg, to win the first gold medal for India in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Enroute to the medal, she broke the games record for the weight category; the effort also marked her personal best performance. She missed out on a bronze medal in 49 kg category at 2019 Asian Weightlifting Championships with a total lift of 199 kg, her personal best.
  • At the 2019 World Weightlifting Championships, Mirabai lifted a total of 201kgs to finish 4th. This personal best total also created a new national record in the 49kg category. She broke her personal record again four months later when she lifted 203kgs in the 49kg category to win the gold medal at the 2020 Senior National Weightlifting Championships
  • On April 2021, she won the bronze medal at the 2020 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent where she lifted for a total of 205 kg. In June 2021, Chanu became the only Indian woman weightlifter to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics by securing second position on the Absolute Rankings for 49kg category.
  • Chanu won the silver medal in 49 kg division at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo with a total lift of 202 kg, becoming the first Indian weightlifter to win silver at the Olympics and the second Indian weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari to win an Olympic medal. A new Olympic record was registered by Chanu with a successful lift of 115kg.
Medal record
Medal Venue Category
Olympic games
silver 2020 Tokyo 49kg
World championships
Gold 2017 Anaheim 48kg
Asian championships
Bronze 2020 Tashkent 49kg
Common wealth games
Silver 2014 Glasgow 48kg
Gold 2018 Gold Coast 48kg

Awards

National

  • Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, highest sporting honour of India (2018).
  • Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India (2018).

Other

  • ₹20 lakh from the Government of Manipur for the gold medal in the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships.
  • ₹10 lakh from the Government of Manipur for qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
  • ₹25 lakh from the Government of Manipur for participating in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

For winning the silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics

  • ₹50 lakh from the Government of India.
  • ₹1 crore from the Government of Manipur,[31] and appointment as Additional Superintendent of Police (Sports) in the Manipur State Police.
  • ₹2 crore from the Ministry of Railways (India) and promotion in the Northeast Frontier Railway.

In five years, Mirabai had gone from heartbreak at Rio Olympics to almost quitting the sport to the Olympic podium. Mirabai always had the talent, something which even her mother had spotted at a young age, but the Manipuri weightlifter added the other necessary elements through sheer hard work to channelise her talent and ensure it was rewarded at the highest level.

Every athlete that wins an Olympic medal is inspirational in one way or the other, but the contrast in Mirabai’s two Olympic performances adds more credit to her remarkable turnaround.