'I wanted a career in archery'

| | New Delhi
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'I wanted a career in archery'

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 | PTI | New Delhi

An obsession with being "neat, tidy and stylish" almost led her to archery, says world champion and Commonwealth Games Gold-medallist weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, who feels a chance meeting with her eventual coach changed her career plans.

Mirabai's story is not of somebody being spotted for prodigal talent but of someone who sought out the opportunity and the right mentor.

As a 13-year-old girl from a poor family at the nondescript Nongpok Kakching village, around 20km from Manipur's capital Imphal, Mirabai decided early in her life that she would earn fame as a sportsperson.

In search of a sports facility and a mentor, she travelled with a cousin to the Sports Authority of India Center at Khuman lampak in Imphal in early 2008 and the rest is history.

"All my brothers and cousins play football but they would come back home dirty after a day's play. I wanted to play a sport which is neat and clean. At first, I wanted to be an archer as they are neat and clean and stylish," Mirabai said in an interview.

"They just stand and shoot. So one day I and my cousin went to SAI Center at Khuman lampak in Imphal. But I could not meet any archer as there was no archery training that day," she racalled.

"Then at that time I saw some clippings of Kunajarani Devi's exploits in international arena and that influenced me to take up to weightlifting. So after a few days, me and my cousin again went to the weightlifting training center and luckily I met (former international weightlifter and current coach) Anita Chanu and she initiated me into the sport," said Mirabai, now 23.

Manipur Weightlifting Association General Secretary Sunil Elangbam, who has tracked Mirabai's career throughout, said, "When she came for archery training, as far as I remembered, it was a rainy day or training camp had finished earlier.

"Sometimes luck also plays a part in an athlete's career. It is good Mirabai could not be an archer and she took to weightlifting."

But Mirabai had to toil hard at that young age to adjust her training to her school schedule.

"I had to reach the training centre everyday at 6am and change bus twice from my village in a 22km journey. It was tough initially but I adjusted. Also, I consider myself a strong girl. When I grew up I did stuff like wood cutting at nearby hills, bringing them up by myself and then fetching water from nearby ponds in milk powder cans," said Mirabai who is currently training at NIS Patiala.

She was also told by her coach Anita to bring a bamboo trunk along for training, something that she built herself.

"She told me to bring bamboo trunks to be used as barbells for technique training. In weightlifting, you have to start with technique training, building body strength comes later.

"I had to find some nice bamboo trees near my house and cut them and prepare to be used as a kind of a barbell. This continued for around one month.

"Once the technique training was done I shifted to normal training," said Mirabai.

At most of the training centres in the country, young beginners had to use light objects in the shape of a barbell to teach how to have a grip and other basic techniques.

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