Mirabai Chanu has been a frontrunner in the women’s 49kg category for years but with an increasing number of weightlifters breaching the elusive 90kg mark, the pressure is mounting on the Tokyo Olympics medallist to nail the coveted lift. As many as seven athletes, including five in this current Olympic cycle, have lifted 90kg or more in the snatch section.
Chanu herself has been working to cross the mark since 2019. However, the much-anticipated 90kg snatch lift has eluded her in her two attempts in the past four years.
The Manipuri athlete had first attempted it at the National Championships in February 2020 and then again at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Chanu’s personal best in the section remains an underwhelming 88kg and the gulf between with her competitors is increasing every tournament.
The Chinese duo of Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Hou Zhihui and two-time world champion Jiang Huihua has been consistently lifting in excess of 90kg at tournaments.
The return of Thai weightlifters after severing a two-year suspension has made the field more competitive with both Thanyathon Sukcharoen and Surodchana Khambao lifting 90kg at the Asian Championships in May this year.
European champion Mihaela Valentina Cambei (92kg) of Romania and North Korea’s Ri Song Gum (91kg) are the other athletes to have snatched more than 90kg.
The Asian Games, starting in Hangzhou, China on September 23, will be the perfect opportunity for the star Indian lifter to successfully hoist 90kg or more.
“We are aiming to cross the 90kg mark (in snatch) at the Asian Games. It’s been a while since we have been trying to get over that line,” India head coach Vijay Sharma told PTI.
Chanu is at par with her opponents in the clean and jerk section, although her world record lift of 119kg in the section was broken by Huihua, who lifted 120kg at the World Championships this month.
But her snatch performances have been found wanting and often brought down her total weight.
The former world champion has prioritised the Asian Games this year as a medal in the continental event is the only silverware missing from her decorated trophy cabinet.
With two athletes each from weightlifting powerhouses like China and Thailand competing at the Asiad, Chanu will have to elevate her game to stand on the podium in Hangzhou.
Chanu had confessed that the 90kg lift had become somewhat of a mental block last year, ahead of the CWG.
“To reach 96kg, it will take some time and it will be a little difficult for me. But I can reach 93-94kg,” she said.
Additionally, crossing the 90kg mark will also be a huge confidence booster for the 29-year-old ahead of next year’s Paris Olympics.
But lifting close to twice your body weight is easier said than done, especially for Chanu, who struggles with a shoulder imbalance issue that affects her snatch.
Zhihui holds the snatch world record — 96kg — in the lightest women’s Olympic category, which is 8kg more than Chanu’s personal best. “We have to keep in mind Mira’s body as well. She is aging, and the chances of injuries increase with age. So we have to be careful with the workload,” Sharma said.