Mirabai Chanu forfeiting her attempts is not a setback, but part of a strategy
To many people’s surprise, Mirabai Chanu forfeited her last two attempts at Clean and Jerk, which is her strong suit, at the Asian Weightlifting Championships (AWC) on Friday. Chanu, who had lifted 109 kgs in her first attempt, was going for 115 in her second, which would have tied her for the bronze medal. Given her proficiency in Clean and Jerk, not many would have bet against her.
Instead, she decided not to attempt it at all, leaving everyone curious. Around an hour after the competition had ended in Jinju, Korea, her coach Vijay Sharma spoke to this writer and helped put things in context.
“This was not the platform for us to push. Chanu was experiencing a slight niggle in her hip joint and I asked her not to push (for the remaining lifts). To be honest, she was keen to go ahead and would have done it as well. But then it wasn’t a risk worth taking,” said Sharma.
The Asian Championships is one of the six compulsory competitions in the Olympic qualification cycle and as a result it was essential for Chanu to be a part of it. But it was not the one where she needed to push herself.
“We have the World Championships and then the Asian Games in September. If Chanu peaks now, it could be difficult for her to peak again in September,” Sharma said. “In India, we want to win medals in every event but that’s not always the best plan. It is not fair to load the athlete three times in four months.”
Chanu, however, wanted to push herself as usual. “I wanted to go for 90kg in the snatch. But coach sir asked me not to push for it,” she said.
In hindsight, it is an interesting strategy. Her main target is the Asian Games, a medal that she is still missing in her cabinet. “I will do everything to win that,” said Chanu.
With focus firmly on the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, there was no need to go all out in Jinju. With Chanu having won the World Championships silver in December with a total lift of 200kg, she is certain to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris as one of the top eight lifters. “That’s all you need. It is important to be smart and get ready for the big stage. It was always about winning at the Asian Games and the Olympics and that’s what we are aiming for,” said Sharma.
Similar issues are playing out on badminton courts. PV Sindhu and Lakshya Sen both played the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and went on to win gold medals. However, soon after the CWG, Sindhu was injured and was sidelined for five months. In fact, she played the Birmingham final with injury and is still not back to her best. Sen, too, pushed himself at the CWG and has not been his usual self ever since.
“It is certainly an issue. There is pressure on the athletes to perform at these multi-discipline games. It is not always about the standard of competition. And that’s where we need to be smart. Sindhu should have skipped the CWG final if need be, like Neeraj Chopra did, and prepared for the World Championships, which was a more important competition,” said a senior BAI official on conditions of anonymity.
Chanu, in fact, is doing exactly what Neeraj Chopra did in 2022. Neeraj skipped the CWG in August and came back stronger to win the Diamond League gold medal in September. And now he has started 2023 with yet another win in Doha.
Chanu, too, will be back stronger and fitter at the Asian Games with all her preparations tailored to peak in time for Hangzhou. To sacrifice a lesser medal for a bigger one is not something we are accustomed to in India and maybe that’s the reason there is a lot of talk on social media about Chanu’s form.
Jinju is not a cause for concern. Rather, it was very much a part of a well thought out plan. Both Chanu and Sharma will follow it diligently leading up to the 2024 Olympics. “We want the tricolour to go up in Hangzhou and then in Paris. We are working firmly towards that,” Sharma said.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)