All eyes on Mirabai Chanu as she returns to weightlifting World Cup in Phuket today after an injury lay-off

Mirabai Chanu
Mirabai Chanu (PC: X)

Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Mirabai Chanu’s return to competitive weightlifting, after almost six months, at the IWF World Cup in Phuket, Thailand, today, is much awaited. The diminutive lifter had left the arena in pain and trauma at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, last October, when she collapsed in pain. For those who watched the Indian being helped off the field of play, it was not a good sight. She had sustained a major thigh injury.

On Monday (April 1), Mirabai Chanu will figure in the 49kg weight category with 10 other lifters from other countries. The weigh-in is at 1130am (Thailand time) and the competition starts at 130pm. For those who have followed the journey of Mirabai, this event is not meant to be a qualifier in the strictest sense. Yes, she has to weigh-in and go through the competition.

Speaking to RevSportz, Vijay Sharma, her coach, a Dronacharya Award winner, said: “Mira is in good shape and we are confident she will enter the arena with the same confidence.” This is not the first time, the 29-year-old girl from Manipur has returned after an injury. For those who have followed Mirabai’s career, her participation in the Tokyo Olympics seemed in jeopardy, after dealing with a major back issue.

This time, the thigh injury sustained in Hangzhou has led people to believe she is “past prime.” Given her resilience, such an impression is bunkum. There is a school of thought which believes Mirabai Chanu should not have taken part in the Asian Games, as she had a niggle. However, it was at her own insistence she took part and then collapsed in the competition.

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Mirabhai Chanu
Mirabhai Chanu (PC: X)

Mirabai and coach Vijay Sharma did not panic and approached Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, director, arthroscopy, sports orthopaedics, and head of sports medicine at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani hospital in Mumbai. “We followed whatever advice Dr Pardiwala had given, since the time we returned from China. It was only late in January, the doctor gave us permission for Mira to start rehab,” said Vijay Sharma. Till then, she had taken complete rest.

As had been the case before the Tokyo Olympics, Mirabai and her coach went to Aaron Horschig, a sports therapist and conditioning expert, in the United States of America. “We spent nearly four weeks in rehab/strengthening there and returned to India. Only after Mira had been through proper protocol did we bring her back to Patiala for training,” added Vijay Sharma.

Horschig is a well-known name in the field of strength training and helping athletes from various sports disciplines in getting back to peak shape. He had worked wonders with Mirabai before the Tokyo Olympics.

There is no urgency for Mirabai to push hard in the Phuket event. She has already qualified but had to show up at this big event, weight-in and lift. “We are pushing her up to 80 per cent of the load she can take, there is no point in rushing her. I think she can still aggregate around 180kg, which is our target,” said Vijay Sharma.

Mirabai Chanu
Mirabai Chanu (Source: Mirabai Chanu/X)

Not all will go flat out in this big event before the Paris Olympics, though there is some confusion in the minds of a few if Mirabai Chani has qualified or not. The IWF rules say she has to participate in Phuket, weigh in, to establish her weight category. The anti-doping authorities will also be there in Phuket and in all probability all the weightlifters will have to give their samples.

“We are very confident Mira will win a medal in the Paris Olympics. There has been no rushing her back to competition. It is only after taking permission from Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala we put her back in training phase. As far as I am concerned, she is a sure shot medal winner at the Paris Olympics,” said Sahdev Yadav, President of the Indian Weightlifting Federation.

Sahdev Yadav has treated Mirabai like his own daughter and insists there is no pressure on her at all. “Mentally, Mira is in good space and she is pain free. We know what needs to be done, there is no hurry for her to put in her best effort in Phuket. That will happen in Paris,” added Sahdev Yadav.

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