Dope shame mars landmark year for weightlifters

New Delhi: Records shattered, a teen star discovered and a best-ever medal haul at a marquee event — it could well have been the perfect year for Indian weightlifting but for a dope case that took some sheen away.

If world champion Mirabai Chanu stood for a secure present, Jeremy Lalrinnunga emerged as the one for the future in what was a memorable 2018 if not for Commonwealth Games gold- medallist Sanjita Chanu’s failed dope test.

The 16-year-old Lalrinnunga scripted history by giving India its first ever Olympic gold in the sport with his Youth Games gold. Before that, the senior lifters produced the country’s best ever
Commonwealth Games performance with records to boot. A medal-less below-par performance at the Asian Games was a blip but it was never expected to be otherwise.

The big moment came in October when Lalrinnunga etched his name into history books when he scooped the gold in the men’s 62kg category at Buenos Aires. The Mizo sensation lifted a total of 274kg (124kg +150kg) in the Argentine capital, his personal best. Such was the 16-year-old’s supremacy that the silver medallist — Turkey’s Toptas Caner finished 11 kgs behind him.

“I feel very proud that I was able to get the first gold medal for my country at the Youth Olympics. I worked really hard for it. We had heard about the youth Olympics in 2014 and I was working on it ever since,” Lalrinnunga told PTI.

“It wasn’t easy for me to reach the youth Olympics, there were a lot of problems. A couple of months before going, I got chicken pox. It was a struggle to recover from that. But the people around me — my coach and family members — really motivated me and I was able to compete. They instilled the confidence in me for which I am thankful. The
senior lifters also inspired me,” the teenager reflected.

Earlier in April, the senior weightlifters set the ball rolling at Gold Coast with Mirabai Chanu going on a record-smashing spree after P Gururaja opened the country’s account with a silver medal.

The 24-year-old Mirabai first smashed the Commonwealth and the Games record in the snatch category. The Manipuri then went on to lift more than double her body weight to claim the clean and jerk as well as the overall Games record.

Records continued to tumble with Sanjita Chanu leaving competitors far behind. She claimed her second successive CWG gold medal, obliterating the Games record with a total lift of 192kg (84kg+108kg). Indian weightlifters bagged a total of nine medals, including five golds, two silvers, and as many bronze. While Mirabai (48kg), Sanjita (53kg), Sathish Sivalingam (77kg), Venkat Rahul Ragala (85kg) and Punam Yadav (69kg) took home gold medals, Gururaja (56kg) and Pardeep Singh (105kg) fetched silver medals, and Vikas Thakur (94kg) and 18-year-old Deepak
Lather (69kg) added a shade of bronze.

The tournament saw India topping the medals tally in the sport despite being let down by the system. Due to the Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) inability to submit the required documents on time, the lifters were devoid of the services of a full-time physiotherapist for the entire duration of the CWG with almost every member of the squad carrying niggles of various degrees.

This year’s CWG performance was a touch better than the 2014 Glasgow edition where although India won more medals (14) — three gold, five silver, and six bronze — Nigeria topped the tally because of a higher gold count.

But controversy lurked in the form of the dreaded dope shame. Sanjita tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid and was provisionally suspended by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). The case took a dramatic turn when the IWF admitted to committing a mistake in giving the exact sample number of Sanjita in its report of her failed dope test.

This prompted the embattled weightlifter to demand an inquiry. In the build-up to the Asian Games, a mysterious injury to star lifter Mirabai piqued everyone’s attention but although there was an improvement in her condition, the Manipuri was not completely fit to compete at the continental event. The Asian Games was a stark contrast to the Commonwealth Games. The four-member team, sans Mirabai, put up a listless campaign at Jakarta.

It was also a landmark year for weightlifting as the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports rewarded the teacher-pupil duo of Vijay Sharma and Mirabai with the country’s highest sporting honours. Mirabai shared the Khel Ratna with Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli. While Sharma, the head coach of India, was presented with the Dronacharya award.