CWG 2022: Finally, more reward than pain for young Jeremy Lalrinnunga
The 19-year-old lifter was told of his victory in the 67kg division at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games while lying on the ground struggling with cramp
Jeremy Lalrinnunga likes to get his mother on a video call to pray for him whenever he feels low. Between the 2018 Youth Olympics, where his gold brought out the star-in-the-making posters, and the 2022 Commonwealth Games, where his first major multi-nation event triumph was scripted, he would summon his mother several times.
Injuries, pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics miss and flipping new weight categories all slowed down a teenaged weightlifter who was meant to cruise in the fast lane.
“I have a lot of faith in Jesus. I pray a lot,” the 19-year-old said of the times he felt being pulled back when he was supposed to fly. “Whenever I feel low, I make a video call to my mother who always knows what to say to me. It makes me feel better. There are times when I call her on video call and ask her to pray in front of me.”
The prayers wouldn’t stop on Sunday, this time for the gold medal wrapped around Lalrinnunga’s neck rather than to help drive away the doubts in his mind.
Even as Lalrinnunga lay on the floor near the players’ walk-in area, faced covered with a towel and battling pain, that gold was his the moment his challenger fluffed his last attempt. With a Commonwealth Games record in both snatch (140kg) and clean and jerk (160kg), the youngster from Aizawl won the men's 67kg lifting 300kg. It was India’s second gold at the 2022 CWG.
Lalrinnunga's best snatch in his second 140kg attempt opened such a yawning gap between him and the rest that a cramp-and injury-hampered clean and jerk competition did not change the colour of his medal. Vaipava Nevo, who put a traditional Samoan garland around his "good friend’s" neck at the podium, erased his 13kg deficit after the snatch to 7kg for the silver.
This is the tattoo-covered, blonde tip-haired Lalrinnunga's first major senior international medal, four years after his Buenos Aires Youth Olympics breakthrough in the 62kg class. The next year brought the Asian Youth Championships title and a second place at the Qatar International Cup.
The next big thing in Indian weightlifting was taking rapid strides until an extended lull ensued. The 2021 season slowed things down, injuries on the knee and back and Covid forcing him to reach out for the phone rather than lifting weights.
“You need to know how to accept situations whenever things go wrong in life,” Lalrinnunga said on dealing with those moments. “If you cannot make yourself to accept setbacks, you cannot move ahead. Whatever happens, it is God’s plan. That’s what my parents have always told me. If I get injured, I just focus on how to get better fast.”
Off we go again, then. After a below-par Asian Championships in April last year, Lalrinnunga won the Commonwealth Championships in December (he was 7th in the simultaneously held World Championships) in 67kg lifting a total of 305kg.
Watching the Tokyo Olympics from afar left him heartbroken, but also got him closer to the unwavering target of the CWG and the postponed Asian Games. No sooner did the Games organisers tweet photos of the medal Lalrinnunga downloaded and saved it as his phone wallpaper. “I wanted only that medal this time,” he said.
Now he has the actual medal too.
Lalrinnunga believes there’s no difference between the 2018 Jeremy and the 2022 Jeremy. His youthful exuberance is very much alive, he sings and dances at any given opportunity—he hopes to tango with fellow gold winner Mirabai Chanu soon—and works just as hard towards his goals. “Koi farak nahi hai (It makes no difference),” he said. “But I have a little more experience about lifting. I’m starting to realise the (difference in) level that was there at the Youth Olympics and at the senior level.”
He hopes to learn more about that as he will have to move up to 73kg at the 2024 Paris Olympics. “If I manage to stay injury free in the next couple of years, sab sahi rahega (everything will be good),” he said.
His final 67kg act was good too. The snatch was a breeze; rewriting the Games record in the first (136kg) and second (140kg) attempts before failing at 143kg. Clean and Jerk is where things got more uncomfortable. A muscle pull in his right elbow and inner thigh cramp came at the wrong moment. He completed his first 154kg lift but fell backwards immediately. He went back in and collapsed on the floor. The support staff was frantically at him, attending to his back, thighs and elbow.
The second lift of 160kg was done, but the third with five kg added ended in failure and a backward roll. Lalrinnunga was done with 300kg. It was over to Nevo to better it. As he failed his final attempt of 174kg, Lalrinnunga, dazed and on the ground, was told by the coaches that the gold was his.
“I was in so much pain, I wasn't able to understand anything,” he said. “Aise lag raha tha ki koi aur duniya main hoon. Sapne main hoon (It felt like I was in another world, in a dream)."