NEW DELHI: A new rule prevented India from rejigging the weight categories of its lifters for maximum advantage but the country’s 15-strong contingent, headlined by Mirabai Chanu, is still expected to return with a bagful of medals from the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
The Commonwealth tournaments, be it the CWG or the Commonwealth Championships, have been a happy hunting ground for Indian weightlifters, who revel in the absence of traditional powerhouses like China and North Korea.
India has finished as the best-performing nation in the sport in the 1990, 2002, and 2018 editions. It is the second most successful nation in the sport with 125 medals, including 43 golds, behind Australia (159), whose dominance has taken a hit in the last few editions.
Indian weightlifters reigned supreme in the 2018 Gold Coast Games, bringing home a rich haul of nine medals including five golds. And this year too, all 15 lifters are capable of podium finishes.
However, only a handful of them are expected to strike gold.
To increase India’s chances of winning more gold medals in the women’s events, the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) and head coach Vijay Sharma planned to field Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Chanu, a sure-shot title contender, in the 55kg weight division.
Jhilli Dalabehera and S Bindyarani Devi were to compete in the 49kg and 59kg respectively while Poppy Hazarika would have presented her challenge in the 64kg division.
But the entries were rejected based on a new rule that stated only the top-ranked lifter in a category will qualify for the CWG and if he/she withdraws, the next best lifter will not get the berth, as was the case before.
This forced Chanu (49kg), Bindyarani (55kg), and Poppy (59kg) to drop back a weight class each which resulted in Jhilli missing out on the quadrennial event and no Indian representation in 64kg.
At the Games, all eyes will, no doubt, be on Chanu but while all others will strive to stand atop the podium, the former world champion, whose personal best in the women’s 49kg stands at 207kg (88kg+119kg), a whopping 39kgs more than the second best lifter in the field, winning the yellow metal is almost a certainty.
All she has to do is execute two legal lifts, one each in the snatch and clean and jerk, to win her third CWG medal. She doesn’t even need to bring her A game as her nearest rival, Nigeria’s Stella Kingsley’s best effort to date is just 168kg (72kg+96kg).
However, the 27-year-old, who already has a CWG gold and silver in her trophy cabinet, has set herself bigger targets. Chanu is expected to rewrite her clean and jerk world record of 119kg and is also eager to breach the much-anticipated 90kg mark in the snatch section.
“CWG is relatively easy for me, I will be fighting with myself. We have planned to lift 91kg or 92kg at the CWG. Hopefully, it will happen,” she had said last month.