It’s going to be busy September for Indian weightlifter Achinta Sheuli.
Last year, Achinta was brimming with confidence having clinched a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and was eyeing a first World Championships medal in Bogota. However, he had to withdraw moments after his weigh in as he pulled his hamstring in the warm-up area.
This time, even though Achinta is keeping his expectations in check, Riyadh presents itself as an opportunity to pick up the pieces after missing out on last year’s Worlds in Bogota.
“I am treating it like any other normal competition so there is no pressure,” said Achinta in a conversation with Scroll.
The 21-year-old from West Bengal is counting on himself to bounce back after a rather underwhelming outing at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Jinju, South Korea where he finished second in Group B in the 73kg weight division, managing a total lift of just 305kg (140kg in snatch+165kg in clean and jerk).
The IWF World Championships 2023 is a qualifying event for Paris Olympics 2024 and so, the stakes couldn’t be higher. According to the Olympic Qualification Ranking, the top 10 athletes of each Paris 2024 weight category will be allocated their quota place.
Achinta said, “There is still time for Paris but in the qualifying events, I would like to focus on how much my performance improves.
“The qualification is very tough for Paris 2024, so my hope is that I do my best. I have to put myself and my country among the Top 10 before the qualification period ends. For that, I am definitely giving my best every day.”
THE FIELD NEWSLETTER
Sign up for our special newsletter 'Game Points'
Making it thus far
Achinta recognises that there is still a long way to go but also heaves a sigh of relief knowing that he made it thus far. From the early days of sitting with his mother and older brother Alok, embroidering necklines of kurtas in his village Deulpur, Bengal to becoming a Commonwealth Games gold medalist is no mean feat.
Alok, who has won several gold medals at the state-level as a weightlifter himself, acknowledged the way their lives changed for the better in the last few years and feels content in watching his younger brother fulfil the dream they once saw together. Be it embroidering, or working in the fields, carrying bags of wheat and rice from one place to another to lifting, the Sheuli brothers did it all together.
“I used to study and Achinta was really young when our father passed away in 2013,” Alok said to this publication. “So I had to take up the responsibility of running the household. I let go of my own dream for weightlifting and also stopped studying. I used to train as a hobby. Achinta would accompany me there and also at work.
“Watching him now feels very good because I also had the dream and when I wasn’t able to pursue it, my brother did. I wanted to participate in the Olympics, but even if he does, it will be great,” added the older Sheuli sibling.
Achinta, however, remembered his foray into weightlifting slightly differently than his brother.
“One day, I was running after a kite in the same area where the weightlifters trained, the coach spotted me there and suggested that I join the sport too,” he recalled. “I started training and it started to get involved in it.
Eventually, it was the charm of a job prospect and financial stability that made him stick to it. Today, he is pursuing weightlifting and also holds the rank of a havildar in the army.
In the 2014 junior nationals, Achinta came fourth in his event and a coach at Pune’s Army Sports Institute spotted his talent and invited him to shift there to train. The move to Pune paid off as he won bronze at the 2015 Youth National Games and a silver in the Youth Commonwealth Games in Samoa. In 2018, he also made it to the national camp.
This opened the doors for Achinta who then got the exposure, training and most importantly, the diet a weightlifter really needs. There is an anecdote that the brothers laugh about now but it also serves as a reminder about the lives they lived for years, when a proper diet was too big a luxury to afford.
Alok said: “There was almost a ritual in our village to have chicken every Sunday. But we never had it, we just didn’t have the means to afford it every week. When it used to be cooking nearby, Achinta would smell the aroma, cry and say, ‘Everyone’s house has chicken. Why don’t we have it?’ Our mother used to tell him, ‘You eat this today, I will bring chicken for you soon.’”
Now, Achinta does not worry about a luxurious, nutritious meal at all.
Just like every other medallist at Commonwealth Games last year, Achinta wanted to build on the momentum he earned when he stood atop the podium. Though injury forced him to return home instead, he remained undeterred.
“A bad time comes in everyone’s life,” said Achinta, remembering that phase. “In every sport, every athlete has to face the risk of injury. It was a bad phase but that’s what I told myself. I didn’t think too much about it, I focused on the rehab and getting better as soon as possible.”
Calm, composed and usually used to putting up a strong front, he brushed off the pain caused by a back issue he is currently facing as a part and parcel of the game. However, his elder brother, is understandably concerned.
“It’s been almost a year but the injuries are not letting go of him,” said Alok. “He told me two-three days ago ‘I don’t feel good, what do I do?’”
“I asked him to start afresh. Leave lifting for four days. Watch a few movies, especially some motivational one. Go for walks, enjoy with friends. Leave lifting alone and focus on mental preparation. I told him to think of himself as a lion. A lion doesn’t ever retreat, he moves forward.”
From being a kid who just about stumbled into the sport to becoming one of the athletes in the TOPS Development Group, from being the kid who wanted to have chicken to not having to worry about his diet at all — He may need a reminder by his brother once in a while, but Achinta continues to move forward.
At the moment though, Achinta is not satisfied. Underlining the essence of basic human nature, he said, “If you achieve something, the dreams don’t really end there, we find a new dream to chase.
“Every person starts from scratch and I just want to finish what I started. With the injuries on the way, I am taking one step at a time,” he added. “I believe that I can do it so I do not allow myself to crumble.”
And just like that, Alok’s reminder may have done the trick yet again. Because, despite the pain, Achinta is not about to retreat.