Mirabai Chanu lifts weights more than twice her bodyweight for fun. But when a physiotherapist applied gentle pressure on her right hand, using just two fingers, it collapsed. “I thought, ‘am I so weak?’” Chanu laughs.
She isn’t, evidenced by her clean-and-jerk world record set during the Asian Championship last week. That 119kg lift, and the bronze medal that came with it, catapulted the weightlifter to the world’s elite in her 49kg class. It also raised hopes of her finishing on the podium on July 24, the opening day of events at the Tokyo Olympics.
Both these possibilities, however, looked distinct not too long ago. Chanu lifted hundreds of kilos of iron each day for years. That, though, bruised her body so much that in the middle of 2020, she couldn’t lift even half the load she normally would. An evaluation of Chanu’s condition by a former American weightlifter-turned-physiotherapist, Aaron Horschig read like this: “Right shoulder instability and weakness; left shoulder mobility restrictions; left hip mobility and stability problems; backache…” The list was endless.
So curious was Chanu’s case, in fact, that Horschig ended up making a half-hour show on her, calling it ‘Fixing the World Champions Weightlifter.’
‘Fixing’ Chanu looked an improbable task at one point. “We weren’t able to train,” says India’s weightlifting coach Vijay Sharma. “We were not even able to come close to lifting this kind of load.”