She may have lost but Kunja still made a mark
At first sight, N Kunjarani Devi comes across as a serious and tough character. Short hair, strong jaw-line and silver-rimmed spectacles, she even reminds you of a no-nonsense school teacher.
On Saturday night, she looked that part all right for almost two hours -- composed, determined and tough -- as she went through the grind in the 48kg women's weightlifting. That clenched jaw-line, the customary battle cry before the lift and that steely look in her eyes were all in place.
The 36-year-old paramilitary officer seemed to be digging deep into her reserves, willing her ageing body to do that bit extra. And when she went out for her third lift in the clean and jerk, with the barbell raised to 112.5kg, she knew this was her last chance.
She walked into the arena with purpose, knowing well that she had to make a 'good lift' to put pressure on Thai girl Aree Wiratthaworn. She knew she had already lifted her career-best total of 190kg and had to get beyond that. She knew this was it.
It was over in a minute, her hunched frame over the fallen barbell telling the story. She stayed that way for a while, got up suddenly, bowed to the jury and walked away without looking back.
She walked briskly down the stairs, stepped into the warm-up arena and slumped into a chair. Head down she tried hard to fight those tears, but it was too much of a struggle. A shrug of the shoulder, a blank look at the ceiling and she broke down --- like a little girl. A little girl who has been deprived of her most prized teddy.
Minutes later Kunja, as she is fondly called by her teammates, walked out to meet the media, trying hard to hide her feelings. "I came here with a lot of hope. I was really determined to get a medal... No one wants to go back empty-handed... Ab kya karega... sab khatam ho gaya (It's all over)," she said. "Maybe a little luck would have made the difference," she added wistfully.
It must have hurt as she had been ignored for the Sydney Games and she must have had a point to prove. "I was really keyed up and focused. It was not a case of nerves. But I was surprised by the quality of the competition. I always knew it would be tough but had not anticipated it to be so tough."
Karnam Malleswari, the Sydney bronze medallist, was there to give Kunja support and spoke for her friend when asked how it felt to miss the medal.
"She fought like a lioness, what more can she do. In the end it boils down to stage performance on the given day... the pressure can get to anyone," said
Malleswari, hugging Kunja protectively.
Maybe the pressure got to her but Kunja was not disgraced. In a field of 14, she finished tied fourth -- and got the fifth position officially due to higher body weight. Of course, it did not matter in the end.
Will she continue lifting weights? "Hard to say, it is difficult to keep yourself motivated when you are my age."
Yes, it is also difficult for a woman weighing 47.78kg to lift 190kg at the age of 36! Kunja may not have won a medal but she has surely added more weight to the barbell weighing the contribution of women in Indian sport.