June 06, 2014

Yes, Canada's population is only about the size of Orissa's (about 35 million or so) and it is tad bit colder which makes most sports, which are generally outdoor affairs, more difficult to master but in our success-starved cabinet of sporting accomplishments we need to celebrate every small victory we can! In fact, for a country that has justifiably made more news about the safety, or extreme lack of it, for its almost 600 million women, Indian women out-fought and out-muscled their counterparts from over 70 countries to win medals in weightlifting and judo.

In the women's 48 kg weightlifting category Sanjita Khumukcham lifted the Indian tricolor to gold by managing a combined 173 kg lift with Mirabai Chanu Saikhom winning silver with total of 170 kgs. Sushila Likmabam and Kalpana Thoudam both won medals in Judo and adding their names to short but impressive list of sportswomen India has produced over the years.

While we could lament at the lack of recognition the general public in India has regarding these sports or the impact women can make to it, I am more interested in marveling for a moment at the ability of a 48 kg person - male or female - to lift twice their body weight. I am not sure where this ranks in the scale of human achievements but as someone who attempts to workout on occasion I have rubbed shoulders with those who do so more regularly. I have seen these individuals stack up every weight they can on unfortunate bar and proceed to do a squat that is absolutely as difficult as it appears to be. The sweat-soaked, exhausted, unable to stand or sit, physical specimens look around and proudly say - 'twice my body weight!' Seems like what Sanjita did is fairly common then in gyms across India. That's almost true but not quite - In a squat, a person carries the weight on their shoulders whereas a weightlifter carries the weight above their head. This is a massive difference - during a squat a weight is placed on your shoulders and the person essentially performs a sit-up. The degree of difficulty in weightlifting, where one needs to pick that weight off the floor, up the length of your torso and then above your head, is exponentially more difficult. This is why fitness afficionados and gym instructors across the country are respectfully admiring Sanjita and Mirabai's feats with a true appreciation for degree of difficulty of their accomplishment.

It is unlikely, however, for these medals to inspire a raft of women's weightlifters in India or to provide these exceptional women with much long term financial security, impacts of medals which are more usually seen in a country like Canada, but the true essence of a champion is driven by the desire to succeed and be the best in their sport. Sanjita and Mirabai I suspect would gladly take the fame and riches more glamorous sports provide, but their desire to be the greatest in their sport cannot be fuelled by money but only by a passion for what they do. It is something we forget in India when we academically choose sports for our children. Instead of giving them a chance to be the best they can be, we shackle them with expectations for what the sport is supposed to deliver. I dont know the pleasure Sanjita derives from lifting massive steel plates above her head everyday of her life but in it she found her purpose and her calling. Today she has confirmation that those years of dedication, commitment and good old fashioned hard work were all worth it in the best way possible. That is the essence of sport and no matter what level you compete, the experience stays with you a lifetime. So while we might not have made it there ourselves, we should certainly share the pride and joy that our medallists feel.

Congratulations to all these Indian Champions at the Commonwealth Games 2014 who today have proof that they are best in the world at what they do.

Name Medal Categories
Sanjita Khumukcham Gold Weightlifting - Womans 48kg
Sukhen Dey Gold Weightlifting - Mens 56kg
Mirabai Chanu Saikhom Silver Weightlifting - Womans 48kg
Shushila Likmabam Silver Judo - Womans 48kg
Navjot Chana Silver Judo - Mens 60kg
Ganesh Mali Bronze Weightlifting - Mens 56kg
Kalpana Thoudam Bronze Judo - Womans 52kg