It has been an extremely hectic schedule for Mirabai Chanu, India’s only medalist so far at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Ever since her arrival in India, ‘Miracle Mira’ has been part of many felicitations ceremonies, countless media commitments and in the middle of all meeting her relatives as well. The weightlifter is elated with her achievement and overwhelmed with the love and support she got since her return to the country. Speaking to News18.com Chanu talks about how she picked herself up from the Rio Games debacle, what her success means to Manipur and the North-East region and her plans for Paris 2024.
Are you still pinching yourself to see what you accomplished in Tokyo was not a dream, but a reality?
(Laughs) Honestly, when I won the silver medal at that time it did look like that I was just dreaming, but now it has sunk in. I am really overwhelmed by the wishes and love shown by my people of India. The kind of reception and ovation I have received, from Delhi airport to Imphal, has been incredible and yes sometimes I do feel if all this is a dream!
The toughest thing in Olympics is to live up to the expectations. You were world Number 2 and it was fairly assumed that if all goes well, silver was always on the cards. How tough is it to cope with such expectations?
Of course, it was tough. There was a similar kind of expectations in Rio in 2016 as well but that was my first Olympics and I got nervous. I was devastated after the loss and didn’t eat for many days. I didn’t know what to do as it was very tough to motivate myself but then my coach Vijay Sharma helped me enormously with his guidance. And, that is why I was able to make a comeback in Tokyo.
Your story has been inspiring in the sense that no matter what happens, there is always a chance for redemption?
Yes, it happens with every player. We all have to face defeat. There is always a better tomorrow. Nothing is over on the very first attempt or in a day. You do get disappointed with failures, but I always look ahead and prepare accordingly and that kind of mindset brings positive results.
This has been the greatest moment of your career, but do you think that three years from now, you can think of winning a gold medal in the Olympics?
I will start training as early as possible. I worked five years for this silver medal and now I am left with just three years to target the gold. I want to enjoy life but I want to focus on my target and would definitely want to change the colour of my medal in Paris.
When you become a champion, there are so many distractions that tag along; like people will be queuing for movies on you, biopic, books and so many other things. How will you handle that?
I don’t think about those things. I will see what happens in future but my sole focus is now on training. Biopic or not, it doesn’t matter as I have got so much love from India.
Indians from the north-eastern part of the country often face some form of discrimination in some parts of country. Do you think, your achievement also has a bigger social message for India?
Earlier, a lot of people used to say that they didn’t know where Manipur is located. Sometimes, people would not consider us as Indians and that used to hurt; and it obviously didn’t feel nice. But, that also used to motivate me that one day I will show what Manipur has to offer and I am sure now everybody know what Manipur is and where is it located and I am glad with this.
So, it’s a big triumph for a Manipuri girl…
I don’t consider myself as only a Manipuri girl. I am an Indian and will think about the betterment of all athletes from India and not just my state.
Your story is also about the assertion of girl-power in Indian sports?
I had someone like Kunjarani Devi to look up to. I will hope that a lot of young girls will get inspired and a lot of girls will take the sports of weightlifting.
You already have received the highest sporting honour of the country in Khel Ratna. There is more in the offing…
(Laughs) … I used to think that the Arjuna award is the best award and didn’t know that Khel Ratna is actually the greatest honour. I don’t know about what happens now with Arjuna award, but as players, we always used to think that it is something very special.
(In August 2020, the Sports Ministry on had decided against bestowing the Arjuna Award on former Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna winners Sakshi Malik and Mirabai Chanu)
How big of an influence your coach Vijay Sharma has been in your life?
He has been a father figure for me. He has always been there with me in my good and bad times and has been very lucky for me. I can’t thank him enough since he is like a family member to me.
What was the turning point of your career which gave you the belief that you can win a medal?
I think that has to be the way I picked myself after the Rio loss. It wasn’t easy but subsequently I kept improving in each competition I faced and that gave me the confidence that I could win a medal in Tokyo Games.
You have got millions of congratulatory messages. Which one has stood out for you?
I got a call from honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately after winning the medal. I just couldn’t believe it when I heard the words: “Mira aapne toh kamal kar diya.. aapne purey bharat ka naam upar kar diya..(You have done something remarkable, you have made India proud) Of course, I was elated with the call, but trust me I couldn’t believe that it was true. That was an unforgettable moment of my career.
Besides PM Modi, anyone else especially from sporting fraternity which made you feel very happy with their message?
Actually, I got a lot of messages and have not been able to read all of them on social media as yet. But, certainly, it has been very pleasing.
Cricket is a national passion and you were getting messages from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli. Must be thrilled?
There are so many players who tweeted and sent messages, it was very special. Such big players sending congratulatory messages are indeed special, what else I want as a player!