Former champion Mirabai Chanu will look to repeat her 2017 feat and improve her chances of an Olympic spot when she spearheads the Indian challenge at the World Weightlifting Championship, starting in Pattaya on Wednesday.
The Indian weightlifter, who had won the gold in the 48kg category at the 2017 World Weightlifting Championships, remains India’s brightest medal prospect but she needs to significantly step up her game in Thailand.
Mirabai made a strong comeback from a lower back injury that had kept her out of action for nearly nine months post the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The 25-year-old, who jumped from 48kg to 49kg following the International Weightlifting Federation’s decision to rejig weight categories, has logged personal bests at two of the three events that she has competed this year.
In the Asian Championships, she lifted a personal best of 199kg (86kg+113kg) but missed out on the podium by a whisker. China’s Zhang Rong also had the same total of 199kg (88kg+111kg) but was ranked higher, owing to a better snatch score.
In the last edition, Thai weightlifter Chayuttra Pramongkhol, who is currently embroiled in a dope scandal, had broken the world record in the women’s 49kg category by lifting 209kgs (89+120) to take home the gold, while the silver and bronze went for 208kg and 206kg, respectively.
This year Mirabai will be competing alongside 2018’s silver and bronze medal winners China’s Hou Zhihui, who is also the current world record holder in the 49kg category, and Jiang Huihua respectively.
The two Chinese weightlifters have logged an entry weight of 210kg, a whopping 10 kgs more than Mirabai’s 200kg. Ri Song-gum of North Korea and Dominican Republic’s Beatriz Piron have also set it at 200kg.
The weightlifter from Manipur is aware of the competition posed by the Chinese and is working towards reaching the 210kg mark.
“I have lifted 203kg in training. My aim is 210kg but it has to be done slowly, hopefully till Tokyo I will be able to achieve it,” Mirabai told PTI.
National coach Vijay Sharma said Mirabai has to lift more than 200kg to put up a fight against the Chinese.
“The World Championship is the most important competition for us and we have to improve our total here. Mira’s target is 200 plus. We have to achieve 203kg-205kg target only then can we give a good fight to the Chinese,” he said.
Among the male lifters, all eyes will be on Youth Olympic Games gold medallist teenager Jeremy Lalrinnunga.
The 16-year-old from Mizoram started the year by winning the silver medal in the EGAT Cup, lifting 131kg in snatch and 157kg in clean and jerk. At the Asian Championships, he smashed the Youth World and Asian records with an effort of 297kg (134kg+163kg).
However, a podium finish seems unlikely as Jeremy has set an entry weight of 305kg to be placed in the B Category.
At the 2018 Worlds, the gold was won with a lift of 332kg, while the silver and bronze went for 323kg and 322kg respectively.
Other Indians in fray, include Commonwealth Championship gold medallist Ajay Singh (81kg) and national champion Achinta Sheuli (73kg).
While none of the athletes will be able to qualify for the Tokyo Games from this tournament alone, a good performance at the gold level Olympic qualifying event will bolster their chances of making it to the Games next year.
A lifter has to compete in a minimum of two qualifying tournaments in three separate qualifying cycles – November 2018 to April 2019, May 2019 to October 2019 and November 2019 to April 2020.
Men: Jeremy Lalrinnunga (67kg), Achinta Sheuli (73 kg), Ajay Singh (81 kg)
Women: Mirabai Chanu (49 kg), Jhilli Dalabehera (45 kg), Sneha Soren (55kg), Rakhi Halder (64kg) .
With PTI Inputs