Just as this piece is about to be published, we’ve witnessed an incredible display of sportsmanship and strength on the part of the Indian Women’s Hockey team. Despite an early lead, the team lost the semi-finals to Argentina and will be up against England for a bronze medal. This isn’t the first time during the Tokyo Olympics 2020 that the Indian women’s contingent has left us in awe. Mirabhai Chanu, PV Sindhu and Lovlina Borgohain, have already done the country proud and brought back medals; in the weightlifting, badminton, and boxing categories, respectively.
With the largest ever women’s contingent that India has sent to the Olympic games so far, it is safe to say, this time, it is all about woman power. And the games aren’t over yet!
While the victories and medals will stay fresh in our minds for a long time to come, the true lessons lie in the incredible stories of grit and resilience that these women athletes have displayed. With limited access to resources, training and a society that isn’t encouraging of women in sports; these are mighty feats.
From Mirabai Chanu hitchhiking her way to training to Lovlina Borgohain struggles in Muay Thai, all the way to PV Sindhu’s focused training and many laurels, here’s a look at the journeys of the three women winners.
1. Mirabai Chanu
Weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu made history by giving India its first silver medal in women's 49 kg weightlifting competition by lifting a total of 202 kg at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics. She is the second woman to earn a medal in weightlifting after the famous Karnam Malleshwari in 2000.
Chanu, 26, was born on August 8, 1994, in Nangpok Kakching, a small village near Manipur's capital city of Imphal. At just 12 years of age, she was strong enough to carry bundles of firewood. That’s when her parents first noticed her strength. Soon she caught the eye of former international weightlifter and coach, L Anita Chanu, who then became her first trainer.
Chanu used to hitch a ride with truck drivers to travel from her village to the Khuman Lampak training centre in Imphal. Post her remarkable victory at the Tokyo Olympics, she told the media that she would like to meet those truck drivers, and pay them back for all the free rides they offered her. After following a strict, zero cheat-day diet routine for years now, after winning the silver medal, she talked about her craving for pizza with a media house. Promptly, Dominos came forward to offer her free pizzas for a lifetime.
Chanu's return from Tokyo with a silver medal, won her and the ASP office by Manipur government INR 1 crore. It also earned a promotion at the Northern Railways, for her now trainer, Vijay Sharma, a national weightlifting chief coach and Dronacharya awardee. Reports of her biopic, already announced in Manipur, are doing rounds in the media.
Her bag of past achievements includes, a bronze at 2020 Tashkent Asian Championship, a gold in 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, and also at 2017 Anaheim World Championships, and another silver at 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Not to mention Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and Padma Shri, both in 2018. However, the credit for her Tokyo victory goes to Dr Aaaron Horschig, a renowned strength and conditioning coach in St Louis, USA, under whom she was training since May 2021.
2. Lovlina Borgohain
This 23-year-old boxer from Assam is the second in line to win a medal at the Olympics. Defeating Taiwan's Nien Chin-Chen in the Women's Welterweight (64-69 kg) category quarterfinal bout, she won bronze for the country. However, she lost in the semifinals against Turkey's Busenaz Surmeneli, but managed to increase India’s medal count this year.
In an interview to Olympics.com, her father said, “I am extremely happy. All her struggles paid off today. She has been a struggler from day one. Since she was 10, she has been training under a Muay Thai coach, Prashant Das. She was trained in Muay Thai. Then she went for a SAI (Sports Authority of India) boxing trial in Golaghat. There she was picked up by Shri Padum Boro.”
She was born on October 2, 1997, to Tiken and Moamoni Boroghain in the Golaghat district of Assam. Her two sisters -- Lima and Licha -- also competed at national level for kickboxing, but did not make it as big as that of Lovlina. While she began with kickboxing too, she later switched to boxing. It was after she won a gold medal at national sub-junior games in Kolkata that she began taking the sport seriously
Her bag of achievements includes, two bronze medals at AIBA Womans World Boxing Championships, in 2018 and 2019 respectively; and the Arjuna Award. In order to secure her seat at the Tokyo Olympics, she beat Uzbekistan's Maftunakhon Melieva at the 2020 Asia & Oceania Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament. Sandhya Gurung from Sikkim is the woman who trained Borgohain and helped her achieve some of her goals.
3. PV Sindhu
Badminton player, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu from Hyderabad, won a bronze in Tokyo this year after beating China's He Bing Jiao. This made the ace shuttler India's first woman to win two consecutive individual Olympic medals.
“I appreciate all the well wishes and words of support from the bottom of my heart. I carried it all the way through, and it means the world to me, just as this medal means everything for me to represent our nation. The Tokyo Olympics has been an experience that I will not forget, from preparing for five years to stepping in the medal podium, each moment is forever etched with me. It’s been a day and I still have no words to describe the feeling of holding an Olympic medal. It’s always a dream come true each time. It’s never just been a solo journey for me to get where I am. I am incredibly thankful to the people in my life who have continuously been with me through it all. I cannot thank everyone, but please know that I am so incredibly thankful and grateful for each and every person who has been there with me and the journey does not stop here!” Sindhu wrote on her Instagram handle following her victory.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sindhu had made India proud by winning a silver, post which cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar had gifted her a BMW car. Later in 2019 she had also won a gold at the World Championships. Her Tokyo victory is credited to her South Korean coach, Park Tae Sang, who had represented his country at the 2004 Olympics. Her past list of coaches includes, Pullela Gopichand, Indonesia's Mulyo Handoyo, and South Korea's Kim Ji Hyun.
Born to athlete parents, PV Vijaya and PV Ramana -- both national level volleyball players – in Hyderabad, Sindhu started playing at the international level when she was just 14 years old. She won her first bronze at the 2009 Sub-Junior Asian Badminton Championships in Colombo.
Badminton player Pullela Gopichand’s performance at the 2001 All England Open Badminton Championship was her biggest inspiration behind opting for the sport; after which she joined the Gopichand Badminton Academy.