Saikhom Mirabai Chanu’s formidable strength is particularly evident in her powerful forearms that effortlessly lift heavy weights. However, amidst the prominent veins and defined muscles, the tattoos on her left arm betrays her softer side in a power-based sport.

The word “Ima” – mother in her native tongue – is neatly inked on her arm. As are the Olympic rings which serve as a reminder of the silver medal she won at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

She is undecided about expanding her tattoo collection upon returning from the Paris 2024 Olympics, that begin next month. But the 29-year-old from Imphal, Manipur, is resolute in her determination to secure another medal for India.

“I am not burdening myself, but I am sure that I will give my best and hence, the medal will follow,” said Chanu in a press conference organised by the Sports Authority of India, Indian Olympic Association and the Indian Weightlifting Federation on Thursday.

Despite her status as an Olympic and World Championships medallist, and regarded as one of the toughest competitors in the 49kg women’s category, Chanu explained that she is nervous.

After enduring a frightening hip joint injury during the September 2023 Asian Games, she confronted considerable uncertainty. There were many qualification events still left at the time, but she had been advised five months of rest.

However, she endured and will soon head for Paris for her third Olympic appearance. She made her Olympic debut with a disappointing performance in Rio in 2016. But came back strong with a silver medal in Tokyo.

In between, she became the first Indian in 22 years to win the World Championship title when she clinched gold in Anaheim, USA in 2017. At the 2020 Asian Championships in China, she set a world record lift of 119kg in clean and jerk.

Chanu achieved her personal best in snatch at 88kg, a pivotal effort that secured her the gold medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where she completed a combined lift of 201 kg.

She has a long list of accolades she has picked up along her way, but ahead of the Olympics, where she is a heavy medal contender, she asserted that there is some pressure.

“Pressure comes in every player’s life,” said Chanu. “I do wonder what will happen this time, what about the injury, whether I can medal again but if I give my 100%, then I can get a medal for the country.

“I gave the silver medal to India on the first day of the Tokyo Olympics. I had given hope to everyone. So this time too, I will try my best.”

Through the thick and thin of it all has been Vijay Sharma, the national weightlifting coach, who has trained Chanu for over a decade now.

“I have changed completely since coming here [Patiala],” said Chanu. “[Sharma] talks to me and takes care of me like a daughter. It’s a big thing for me. He supports me through everything and there has never been any shortage of anything in training.”

Chanu also acknowledged the role Dr Aaron Horschig – a renowned strength and conditioning coach based out of the United States – has played in her career to reach her peak and also help recover from injuries.

Since 2020, Horschig has overseen her training and physical therapy even for the Tokyo Olympics.

“The best thing about training under him is that my injuries recover quickly,” explained Chanu. “There are options now. I am able to address pain in other areas, see which areas can be treated and which weak muscles can be strengthened.”

Ahead of Paris, Mirabai has been selective about her competitions this year. She participated in just one event in 2024, the IWF World Cup 2024 in Phuket, Thailand, where she finished 12th with a total lift of 184 kilograms.

The performance was enough to guarantee her a place in Paris.

Prior to that, Chanu won silver at the 2022 World Championships in Bogota, Colombia.

And before she heads to Paris next week to acclimatize and level up her training, Chanu has been sticking a modified training schedule in Patiala.

“I have completely recovered from [injury] and I am going slowly in training,” she said. “Now I am lifting 80-85% in repetitions, I am not lifting 100% till the Olympics.

“Right now, I am going gradually and lifting 70-80kgs in training but my target is 90kg and to better my clean and jerk lift but I can’t say that there’s a specific target.”

The 90kg mark in the snatch lift has been a longstanding yardstick she has hoped to cross. But that is not the priority. It’s the sum of what she puts in both categories of lifts that will determine the medal. She cannot predict a colour yet, but Chanu is looking forward to getting on an Olympic podium once again.