The year is 2004. Greece is yet to face a crippling economic crisis that will malign its name. The country is hosting the event that it is credited with creating: the Olympic Games.
However, there is a different form of maligning that is going on. Born in Imphal in 1978, weightlifter Sanamacha is about to bring all shades of fame — and infamy — to the Chanu name.
Hailing from Manipur, she finishes fourth in the 53-kg category for weightlifting. However, she is disqualified after tests reveal banned substances in her bloodstream.
At that point, little is known of the 10-year-old girl with the Chanu name who would go on to provide a silver lining to this tale in her own way.
Redemption on the horizon?
Health experts are divided. On one hand, they know that the Olympics are one of the most crowded — and one of the most intimate — sporting events across world history.
On the other hand, they are apprehensive of the pandemic that has killed around 5 million people — official figures — across the world, and threatens to claim more lives.
One girl from India, however, has her focus elsewhere. Born when a teenage Sanamacha Chanu was probably preparing for glory, this girl would surprise her parents even before reaching the teens!
Apparently, Mirabai — a name she shares with one of the most ardent devotees of Lord Krishna — could carry loads of timber at the age 12 that her elder brother could not even pick up!
Accidental convert from archery
Local reports say that at the same age, she was enamoured with archery. The 12-year-old Mirabai Chanu even went to the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal — the capital of Manipur — to enrol in training for the sport.
As luck would have it, the archery centre was apparently closed. So Mirabai instead visited the weightlifting centre there.
There, the weightlifting equipment apparently caught her fancy. After all, this was a girl used to transporting lumber up and down the hills in her native village 20 km from Imphal.
Local accounts say she would make this 20-km journey regularly over the next few years to train in weightlifting. She moved to the national capital as she gained more recognition and accolades.
Redeeming the Chanu name despite injuries
In 2017, Mirabai became the first Indian after Karnam Malleswari to win a gold medal at the World Weightlifting Championships. The latter had won that accolade in 1994, more than a generation ago.
In 2018, Mirabai won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
In April 2021, she set a world record in clean-and-jerk at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent.
It was as if she was building up to prove to her country that she was not to be trifled with. She did exactly that on July 25, 2021, when she won the silver medal in weightlifting in the women’s 48-kg category.
And thus it was that Saikhom Mirabai Chanu created history for India by becoming only the second woman weightlifter from the country to win an Olympic medal.