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Lifting billion hopes: The American who helped Mirabai Chanu keep her tryst with Olympic glory

Separate stints with US based physio helps lifter Mirabai correct her technique, wins silver to exorcise demons of Rio.

Published: 25th July 2021 12:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th July 2021 08:47 PM   |  A+A-

Mirabai Chanu Saikhom of India competes in the women's 49kg weightlifting event, at the 2020 Summer Olympics (Photo | AP)

Mirabai Chanu Saikhom of India competes in the women's 49kg weightlifting event, at the 2020 Summer Olympics (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Five years ago, India's weightlifter Mirabai Chanu had managed just one clean lift in six attempts in 48kg to crash out of the Rio Olympics. The highly disappointing show had left her inconsolable then, but she made amends on Saturday by clinching 49 kg silver at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The medal, the country's first in weightlifting since the 2000 Sydney Olympics (Karnam Malleswari), also opened India's campaign on a good note on Day 1 of the Games.

The Manipur athlete lifted a total of 202kg (87kg in snatch and 115kg in clean and jerk) to finish behind her Chinese counterpart Hou Zhihui, who lifted 210kg (94kg in snatch and 116kg in C&J). Indonesian Windy Cantika Aisah lifted 194kg (84kg and 110kg C&J) to finish with bronze.

However, Tokyo is just the culmination of the journey which began soon after the Rio debacle. "In Rio, I could not perform. It was difficult but we decided to achieve what we missed out in Rio at the Tokyo Games," said Mirabai in a virtual interaction organised by the SAI on Saturday.

The Manipuri athlete came back stronger after the Rio disappointment as she won a gold medal each at the Commonwealth Championships and World Championships in 2017. She followed it up with another top finish at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

It was not that there weren't any road bumps on her way to Olympic glory. A back injury soon after the Gold Coast CWG kept her out for almost 10 months. She returned in 2019 but medals were hard to come by even as she competed at the Asian Championships and the Worlds.

Following that, she created a national record at the National Championships early in 2020 but the lifter, along with the chief coach Vijay Sharma, knew something was amiss. They were racing against time to fix the issue. The coronavirus pandemic gave them a chance to work on that aspect and with approval from TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme), Mirabai and her coach flew down to St Louis in the US to work with renowned physiotherapist Dr Aaron Horschig, a former weightlifter himself.

ALSO READ | Olympics silver medallist Mirabai Chanu: Manipur's miracle lady

"We have to fix a few biomechanical issues. That's why we are consulting Dr Horschig. It's more a technical issue than an injury," coach Sharma had told this daily before the trip last year.
So what exactly was the problem or to be precise the biomechanical issue the lifter was facing? Dr Horschig concluded that there was an asymmetry in Mirabai's technique, especially during her snatch motion, which coincidentally has been the lifter's Achilles' heel for quite some time.

As per his observation, Mirabai's right shoulder blade was moving out of sync with the left which meant that her arms were not sharing the load equally. The physiotherapist suggested a few exercises to Mirabai so that she could mobilise her rhomboid muscles (a large group of muscles in one's upper back that connect the shoulder blade to the spine) before her workout sessions. This in turn helped the weightlifter to synchronise the upward rotation of the shoulder blades.

The solution worked wonders as Mirabai created a new world record in the clean and jerk discipline by lifting 119kg at the Asian Championships a few months ago. She also won a bronze at the event.
But that was not the end as the duo once again decided to head to the USA to work with Dr Horschig before departing for Tokyo. With the second wave creating havoc in the country and foreign countries putting India in the travel red list, Mirabai was running out of time but the government made sure she did not miss out on the desired trip by making travel arrangements in a couple of days.

"I too was under pressure for some time after the Rio failure. But we changed the training pattern and technique immediately and it started bearing fruit the very next year. We have been working towards this goal for the past five years and we are happy we have achieved our goal," said the elated coach from Tokyo.

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