Rice, sports clubs, a killer instinct: Ingredients of Mirabai’s Tokyo silver
- Mirabai Chanu won a silver medal for weightlifting in Tokyo Olympics 2020
- Chanu hails from Nongpok Kakching in Manipur
- Manipur has a long history of champion women weightlifters
When 12-year-old Saikhom Mirabai Chanu started lifting heavy logs as a child in her hometown of Nongpok Kakching in Manipur, located 44 kilometres away from Imphal, little did she know that she would go on to represent her country at the world stage one day.
But Manipur knew, and the state had prepared its infrastructure to house and train an Olympian weightlifter.
Mirabai’s talents were first noticed by Anita Chanu, a former international weightlifter and coach.
Low centre of gravity
“When I saw her lift for the first time, she had a killer instinct,” said Anita Chanu to The Indian Express. Anita says that people from the northeastern states of India are smaller in height but make up for it in low centre of gravity, like Messi and Maradona. This is a crucial aspect of why people from Manipur do so well in sport, whether weightlifting, football or boxing.
It’s this low centre of gravity that helped Mirabai pick almost four times her bodyweight across five successful lifts in snatch and clean and jerk categories.
But height or body type aren’t enough to explain Manipur’s stellar record. The secret also lies in the local cuisine and more importantly, what has been the local cuisine for generations.
For Manipur’s athletes, it is their consumption of rice that dictates success in a sport like weightlifting.
“Most athletes in lower weight categories come from Asian countries like China and South Korea. These countries are famous for sticky rice being a part of their diet. In Manipur, most people eat rice as a premier source of energy,” says Sunil Elangbam, the secretary of Manipur weightlifting.
This simplistic way of nutrition is a general staple for the people of Manipur. Rice aids in athletes’ physical training. The carbohydrates are easy to digest and also help the body recover faster after intense workouts.
The culture of sports
Children in Manipur are afforded the opportunity to decide on their choice of sport. As they grow up to be teens, they may not become specialists in any particular sport but have developed necessary physical prowess transition across sporting disciplines. The sport club culture which has been part of Manipur for centuries helps make these extremely capable athletes.
From the beginning of this century, Manipur has had a steady stream of champion women weightlifters. It is the combination of their body type, diet and sports culture that brews itself into the perfect storm. A silver medal in Tokyo now adorns Manipur.