Karnam Malleswari and N Kunjarani Devi, two legends of Indian weightlifting, on Saturday hailed Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, silver medallist in women’s 49kg weightlifting at the Tokyo Olympics for her determination, willpower, and hard work that helped her recover from a disastrous campaign at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“She had a very poor day at Rio de Janeiro but she did not let lose hope, did not let it stall her progress. She worked hard, improved her technique, and has today won a silver medal for India. It’s a great achievement that a weightlifter has won a medal for India after a gap of 21 years,” said Karnam, the first Indian weightlifter to win an individual medal at the Olympics, in Sydney in 2000.

Karnam had won a bronze medal in women’s 69kg at Sydney, the lone medal in that edition of the Olympics. It was only the third individual medal won by an Indian athlete in the quadrennial extravaganza after wrestler KD Jadhav (1952 Helsinki) and tennis player Leander Paes (1996 Atlanta Games) — both won bronze medals.

And just as their medals had lifted the profile of their respective sports, Karnam said Mirabai’s feat will inspire upcoming weightlifters.

“I see this as a positive development for weightlifting in India as it will spur the next generation of weightlifters. It will promote a weightlifting culture in the country as the sport has been facing a lot of issues lately. Young weightlifters would feel that if she can do it, they can too. It is a huge encouragement for young weightlifters and will open a new door for the sport,” Karnam said in an interview with the official broadcaster.

“Being the first medal of the Tokyo Olympics, and coming on the opening day of competitions, it has lifted the gloom in the Indian camp as we had missed a couple of medal opportunities. This will give confidence to other members of the contingent,” said Karnam.

Kunjarani Devi, the first Indian weightlifter to win a medal in the World Championships — silver in Manchester in 1989 — said Mirabai’s determination, hard work, and willpower had seen her through.

“She is very hardworking and determined and has a strong willpower, which is evident from her comeback after the disappointment she faced in Rio de Janeiro,” said Kunjarani.

“I feel so proud that a girl from my home state of Manipur, and a weightlifter, has won India’s first medal at the Tokyo Olympics. It is a great achievement for Mirabai,” said Kunjarani.

Karnam praised the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) for putting faith in Mirabai and supporting her when the chips were down for the Manipuri weightlifter.

“The government and Sports Authority of India (SAI) helped her a lot and did not allow her to lose hope. When she was injured, they sent her to the United States for a lengthy treatment-cum-training camp with a very good doctor,” said Karnam.–IANS

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