Mirabai Chanu had aspirations of securing the only missing medal in her collection when she arrived in China. However, her return to India is marred by significant challenges—another injury and uncertainties regarding her prospects for the Paris Olympics. Despite contending with an injury, the silver medalist from the Tokyo Olympics managed only two successful lifts in six attempts. Ultimately, she finished fourth in the 49 kg weight class at the Asian Games weightlifting competition, posting a total of 191 kg (83 kg in snatch, 108 kg in clean and jerk). While Chanu can draw strength from her resilience to compete despite the injury, it stands as the sole positive takeaway from her performance.
The competition revealed a shift in the hierarchy of the 49 kg weight class, disrupting Chinese dominance, and Chanu failed to secure a position in the top three. This marks a departure from her usual standing as the second or third-best in her category over the past couple of years. The return of North Korean and Thai lifters, after years in exile, has evidently transformed the competitive landscape.
In this event, North Korea’s Ri Songgum emerged as the standout performer, setting a world record with a combined lift of 216 kg (92 kg in snatch, 124 kg in clean and jerk). This remarkable feat came in her first major competition in three years. She secured the top spot ahead of the home favorite Jiang Huihua, who lifted a total of 213 kg, and Thailand’s Thanyathon Sukcharoen, claiming the third position with 199 kg. The Asian Games have highlighted the evolving dynamics in the 49 kg weight class, adding an extra layer of complexity to Mirabai Chanu’s journey towards the Paris Olympics. When Chanu clinched the silver in Tokyo, neither North Korean nor Thai athletes were part of the competition. Thailand’s lifters had faced exclusion from international events due to doping offenses, and North Korea’s strict COVID-19 measures resulted in all their athletes choosing self-imposed exile.
While Songgum and other North Korean lifters won’t be eligible for the Paris Olympics due to a lack of doping tests during their hiatus from the sport, Chanu confronts a formidable challenge. Lifters from outside Asia are steadily approaching the 200-kg mark, a critical threshold for a podium finish. However, Chanu’s primary concerns revolve around her own body. During the recent competition, she sustained a hip injury whose full extent remains unknown. “When I was warming up in deep sitting for the snatch, I felt some pain in the hip,” Chanu revealed. “I had focused that I had worked hard and did all the training, so I wanted to complete it by competing here. But I couldn’t do it because of the pain. I tried to give my everything to get a medal for India.”
Frequent injuries have thwarted Chanu’s aspirations of surpassing the 90 kg mark in the snatch category, a goal she has diligently pursued to improve her overall score. Unfortunately, Saturday only compounded her frustrations as she managed just one legal lift of 83 kg, falling significantly short of her personal best. Chanu, who wasn’t initially in the running for a medal after the first round, decided to take a bold approach in the clean and jerk—a segment where she is considered one of the strongest in the world. Despite the pain, she heavily taped herself and took to the platform for the clean and jerk. Unfortunately, her attempt to lift 117 kg was unsuccessful.