The growing legend of teenage lifter Jeremy Lalrinnunga
For a boy who lifts more than twice his bodyweight in one smooth motion, Jeremy Lalrinnunga has a soft, shy handshake.
The 16-year-old from Mizoram, the 2018 Youth Olympic champion, weighs in at 64kg, but set the youth world record in snatch with a lift of 136kg earlier this month at the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship in Apia, Samoa. He merely bettered a mark he had set himself back in April, when he had gone on a record-breaking spree, setting three youth world records and three senior national records, in snatch, clean & jerk, and total lift at the Asian Championship in China.
Bring him to the big stage and the compact boy turns into an iron man.
There is no secret, Lalrinnunga says, “I just try to repeat what I do in training, that’s all.”
Lalrinnunga says he does not feel nervous in competition, that he is able to stay as relaxed when a medal is at stake as he is when he is simply in training. Yet, there is a tiny 3kg gap between his best total lift in the gym (300kg) and the world record total lift he set in China (297kg—snatch 134kg, clean & jerk 163kg).
Chief national coach Vijay Sharma says the teenager from Mizoram is a natural lifter and is gifted with explosive power.
“I would say he is every inch a champion because he has a strong upper body and equally strong lower limbs. That’s a big advantage,” Sharma says. “But he isn’t a massive eater. If he can add 2kg more to his bodyweight it would be good,” adds the coach.
The next eight weeks, says Sharma, will be crucial for Lalrinnunga. He will have to forget that he is setting records and aim even higher, aim to breach the 300kg mark. Because that will open up a path to the Tokyo Olympics. If he does, he will be the youngest lifter ever to represent India at the Games, perhaps even the youngest member of the contingent.
“We have set a target of 300 plus for Lalrinnunga,” Sharma says. The World Weightlifting Championships in 2019 in Thailand will be his first platform to test that out.
Lalrinnunga was just 9 years old when he was spotted by Zarzokima, a weightlifting coach with the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune, who had come home to Aizawl for a break. While visiting a friend a few kilometres outside the city, Zarzokima spotted a rundown local gym, and was curious to see who used it. Inside, he saw three children eagerly listening to the instructions of a coach.
One of them was Lalrinnunga. The Army coach was impressed by all three, and immediately went into scout mode; he contacted the parents of the children and told them of his plans to enroll them in Boys Sports Company, a programme for promising young athletes jointly run by Sports Authority of India and the Indian Army. He got the green signal, and the boys made the long journey from Aizawl to ASI, Pune.
If he weren’t a lifter, Lalrinnunga says, he may have been a boxer, like his father Lalneihtluanga, who was a national champion in the early 90s.
“After school he often wanted to me pad up and teach him boxing,” Lalneihtluanga says through an interpreter. But once his boxing days were over, he found it hard to support his family of five children and worked for a while as a daily wage labourer before he could save enough to start a small piggery.
Lalrinnunga, always restless and active, needed something to do after school, and since there were no playgrounds around their house, he simply landed up at the local gym with some friends and began lifting weights for fun.
But once the sporting bug bit him, Lalrinnunga was unstoppable.
“He grasps things faster than others. That’s his main strength,” says the Army coach.
Sharma, Lalrinnunga’s coach now, says the reason the young lifter is making such rapid improvement is because he is extremely focused.
“He is young but he does not get distracted,” Sharma says. “He is growing and he is improving all the time.”
The next chapter of that story of growth will be written at the World Championships.