Saikhom Mirabai Chanu is a stickler for the rules. Not once since she completed her competition in the women’s 49kg weightlifting event did she remove her mask, be it on the podium or in the athletes’ village or at the Narita International Airport on her way back to Delhi. When she made her way out of the arrival hall at the IGI International Airport, surrounded by a bevy of security men, the mask was intact. Only when she was away from the crowd did she unmask.
And, not even once did she complain about the media frenzy that greeted her when she landed in Imphal. The endless stream of visitors, the countless social engagements, the felicitation programme at the City Convention Centre hosted by Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, Chanu coped with the sudden attention with no complaints.
Ever since she became the first Indian weightlifter to win an Olympic silver on July 24, days and nights have passed in a blur. “People are happy for me. I am a bit tired, but it feels good. My family and I have waited for this day, made so many sacrifices,” she told THE WEEK from her home in Nongpok Kakching in Imphal East district.
Chanu, 26, came home last five years ago, and she wanted to spend time with her family. But that seemed impossible. She slept at 2am on the day she arrived, as visitors kept coming. Day two was jampacked with interviews and social engagements. She woke up at 6 am and did manage to enjoy her mother’s fish curry and rice, something that she had been hankering for after winning the medal.
Heady moments kept hitting Chanu after her moment of glory. The most unforgettable one was a phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “That is my favourite moment when after the competition PM Modi ji called to say thank you! He said I had done wonders winning the first medal on the first day of the Olympics. I can never forget that phone call,” she said. Manipur has decided to appoint her additional superintendent of police (sports).
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