As Indian fans gear up for the opening day action of the Tokyo Olympics, the cynosure of their eyes will be Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, who lays a strong claim for India's first medal on Day 1. They have every reason to be excited about her chances as she is the current world record holder in one of the composites of her 49 kg category.
Mirabai's 119kg lift in the clean and jerk composite at the 2019 World Championships stands tall to the day makes her one of the gold medal contenders. The euphoria is actually reaching its crescendo after Mirabai has listed 210 kg as her entry weight; the highest in the category.
In fact, if one takes a look at the events that happened in the events leading to Olympics, it would feel like the universe has transpired to ensure she faces few challenges in her medal run.
International Weightlifting Federations complex rules of qualification have faced flaks from many quarters -- and a change in rule earlier this year already cost India's youth Olympic gold medallist Jeremy Lalrinnunga a Tokyo ticket -- but one of its golden rule of allowing one lifter from one nation in each category of 14 competitors certainly came to Mirabai's aid.
This effectively cancelled out multiple Chinese competitions and forced the Chinese body to pick one among Hou Zhihui and Ziang Huihua (both of whom have picked more weight than Mirabai). Also, North Korea has opted out of the Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic, taking away one more major rival in Ri Song Gum.
Now the only roadblock that remains for Mirabai Chanu is Hou Zhihui, who is a world record herself in the snatch category at a huge 96 kgs; including 117kgs in snatch (total a world record of 213kgs). In fact, the gulf in the quality of this composite is what keeping our Indian weightlifter from being the favourite for the gold medal as Mirabai's best stands at 88kgs.
The lifter herself in the past has admitted to her lack of confidence in the composite and his coach Vijay Sharma echoed a similar sentiment in a conversation with Indiatvnews from Tokyo but added her strength is what they are focussing on.
"Of course Snatch composite is an area of concern for us but clean and jerk is our primary strength and we are focussed on getting the most out of it and ensure we do enough in the snatch," said the weightlifting federation national coach.
Another area of concern is if Mirabai will manage to hold off her nerves and manage a clean lift in the snatch to ensure she remains in medal contention. Back in 2016, when she participated in her first Olympics, the athlete ended up making all her attempts wrong in the clean and jerk category and subsequently returned empty-handed. Not to forget that she enters the Olympics without competitive exposure and the only positive she had during the period was her two stints of training in the USA during the lockdown
However, with five years of experience under her belt -- which resulted in a world championships crown, a Commonwealth gold medal and a world record --, fans are hopeful she now has what it takes to get the job done this time around.