Teen weightlifter brings gold and joy to India

Jeremy Lalrinnunga battled injury to set records at Commonwealth Games

August 01, 2022
Jeremy Lalrinnunga set two records at the Commonwealth Games.
Jeremy Lalrinnunga set two records at the Commonwealth Games.

NEW DELHI — An Indian teen weightlifter battled muscle cramps to break two records and win gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Jeremy Lalrinnunga's win gave India its fifth medal and second gold at the Birmingham Games.

"It seems I'm in a different world now and living a dream," Lalrinnunga said after his win. "It's my first major competition at the senior level after the 2018 Youth Olympics."

The 19-year-old hails from the north-eastern Indian state of Mizoram and was participating in the men's 67kg weightlifting final on Sunday.

Lalrinnunga started with a carefree lift of 136kg which he bettered by successfully lifting 140kgs in his next try - a record in the Games.

He then lifted 160kg in the clean and jerk category, finishing with a combined 300kg - another record.

Hours later, 20-year-old Achinta Sheuli claimed gold in the 73kg category in weightlifting - giving India its sixth medal at the Games. India's other winners include weightlifters Mirabai Chanu who won a gold, Bindyarani Devi and Sanket Sargar who won silver and Gururaja Poojary who clinched a bronze.

But news of Lalrinnunga's win, who had struggled with back and knee injuries since the Commonwealth Championships in December 2021, has brought much joy to India, with thousands of people taking to social media to celebrate his win and congratulate him.

The young athlete who could be seen grimacing in pain during one of the lifts said on Sunday that his front thigh and inner thigh muscles had started to cramp during the competition.

"I never followed the other lifts, it was so painful," he said after winning gold. "Crying out aloud, I asked the coach, 'Did I get a medal'. Coach [Vijay Sharma] sir told me 'We have the gold,' and that soothed my nerves."

Sharing his triumph on Twitter, he wrote: "Lifting three tons over my shoulder wouldn't have been possible without the strength of my nation backing me. This is gold is just the beginning!"

Born in 2002 in Aizawl town of Mizoram, Lalrinnunga is the son of a junior national champion boxer, Lalneihtluanga.

His father told BBC Hindi's Pradeep Kumar that he would take an eight-year-old Lalrinnunga to the sports academy near his house to box.

Lalrinnunga has called boxing his "first love" but switched to weightlifting after seeing school friends train for the sport at the academy.

As a young boy, he learned to weightlift for fun and was even picked as the most disciplined athlete at the academy.

In January 2012, he was spotted by athletes from the Army Sports Institute (ASI). With their encouragement, he soon joined the Boys Sports Company at the ASI in Pune city and started specialised training in weightlifting.

"I still box in the ring and love it, but looking at my friends' passion, I chose weightlifting," he told the news agency PTI.

His family struggled to finance Lalrinnunga's training, but did their best to pool resources and sought help from those around them.

His neighbour K Jwala said that everyone who knew the athlete had high hopes for him.

In 2016, Lalrinnunga competed in the 56kg category at the World Youth Championships and won silver. In 2017, he won gold at the Commonwealth Junior Championship.

His biggest win came in 2018, when he won gold at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games held in Argentina. It was a first for an Indian athlete, but back home in Aizawl, his family had missed the historic moment because of internet glitches.

This Sunday, however, the whole family saw the teen make history in Birmingham as they watched his event live on TV.

"We are grateful to our friends and relatives as well as to the entire nation who have supported our son," his father told BBC Hindi after the win. "God has compassion on our family and I hope Jeremy will do even better in the coming days."

At home, Lalrinnunga's room is decorated with his medals which his family proudly shows visitors. His mother says that like many boys his age, he is fond of traveling and loves the chicken curry she cooks for him.

After his Birmingham triumph, the teen will now prepare for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

He had missed qualifying for the Tokyo Olympic Games last year due to a knee injury.

The young athlete plans to transition to the 73kg weight category for 2024 Olympics.

"I now know it's at a different level. I have a lot to improve and the most difficult part is to gain weight. If all goes well and I stay injury-free, then I should be there for the Paris Olympics," he said. — BBC

August 01, 2022
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