Perhaps the loudest voice at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham on Saturday as Sanket Sargar struggled with an injury to complete 139kg clean and jerk lifts to win silver in the 55kg category at the Commonwealth Games was that of colleague weightlifter Jeremy Larinnunga.
The 19-year-old, who captured the action on an Instagram Live session, regularly burst into encouragement as if he were Sargar’s personal hype man. “Ayega! Ayega! (It will come),” he shouted furiously. Larinnunga screamed in disappointment and clapped and cheered for his teammate.
On Sunday, presumably in the absence of his own personal hype man, while defying his own injuries, Lalrinnunga took the gold medal in the 67kg category at the Games.
JEREMY WINS GOLD
The indomitable Jeremy lifted a total of 300 kg (GR) in the men’s 67 kg final 🏋♂️ at #B2022
Jerking – 140Kg (GR)
Clean & Jerk – 160Kg
— SAI Media (@Media_SAI) July 31, 2022
Larinnunga’s dominance of the event was fully visible. His 140kg snatch lift was 10kg more than anyone else, and his injury-ridden clean and 160kg jerk lift was enough to secure gold. Silver medalist, Vaipava Ione of Samoa, and bronze medalist, Edidong Umoafia of Nigeria, followed his 300kg total with 7kg and 10kg respectively.
Lalrinnunga trotted onto the stage as if he had known it for years. His confidence and ability were telling as he recovered from the disappointment of failing to break his own national record with a grin.
The scenes from the clean and jerk round were hard to see. In his first two attempts — which were enough to secure a gold medal — Lalrinunnga suffered painful muscle spasms. His attempt to lift 165kg was cut short by an elbow injury, which caused him to fall back to the floor, staggering in pain. He may have won gold, but the extent of his injury remains to be seen.
The ingredients of gold
Despite his young age, Lalrinnunga came into the CWG with a heavy weight of expectations on his shoulders. He holds all three national records of 67kg – 141kg in snatch, 167kg in clean and jerk and 306kg in total, and was fresh off a gold medal at the Commonwealth Championships last year after rebounding from disappointment at being there. failed to make the cut for Tokyo .
— Jeremy Lalrinnunga (@raltejeremy) July 12, 2022
In the absence of Pakistani Talha Talib, who was serving a doping suspension, he was one of the pre-event favorites to climb the top step of the podium. And despite a build-up marred by a back and knee injury, as well as a bout of Covid-19, he didn’t disappoint.
However, managing expectations is no problem for Lalrinnunga as he has been in the spotlight since he was 15 years old when he won India’s first-ever gold medal for the Youth Olympic Games in 2018. Since then, his weightlifting career is only expected to take off.
He grew up in Aizawl and is the son of a well-known Mizoram boxer from the 1990s, Lalneihtluanga, who had to give up his sports career to support his family and look for a job in the Public Works Department (PWD). Speaking to The Indian Express in 2018, Lalneihtluanga revealed that despite a salary of Rs 370 a day, he supported his son to the best of his ability.
Lalrinnunga wanted to box like his father, but after showing promise in the state academy – where he trained in basic weightlifting techniques with bamboo sticks and water pipes – he was selected at the age of 9 to train at the Army Sports Institute in Pune, from from which his development began and he was eventually sent to Buenos Aires for the Youth Olympics.
Despite his humble background, the constant pressure to represent India internationally and being thousands of miles from home, all at a time when his physical and mental development was not yet nearly complete, Lalrinnunga was unfazed. “I was not afraid, even though it was a totally strange experience for me because two of my friends, Jacob Vanlaltluanga and Zakhuma, were also selected. We did full masti (fun) but also learned a lot,” he told The Indian Express after his gold medal triumph in Buenos Aires.
For him, the joy of being part of a top-level sports competition with friends and teammates far outweighed the nerves or the pressure. And whether it’s cheering on fellow lifters, or his own dominant performance, Lalrinnunga never lost sight of that, even during the biggest event of his career.
The Indian weightlifting contingent has performed in the CWG — winning medals in all five categories so far — and even bigger things are expected as they head to the Asian Games next year and the Paris Olympics the year after. While his recent physical problems may prompt the Indian Weightlifting Federation to carefully manage his job, Larinnunga has now established himself as both their present and their future, and he does it all with a smile on his face.