Lifters aim to put behind doping past with clean Olympic show

New Delhi: They are returning to the Olympics after eight years and more than the medals, Indian weightlifters would feel the pressure of staying clear of the dope taint that has haunted the country in this discipline for about a decade.

When K Ravi Kumar and N Soniya Chanu enter the arena, they would like the nation to put behind the ignominy of the past decade and script a new beginning.

A beginning that should have come about when Karnam Malleshwari (69kg) raised the profile of Indian weightlifting by several notches after bagging bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics before the downfall started with a innumerable doping scandals.

While Malleshwari failed to repeat her feat in the next Olympic Games at Athens in 2004, Kunjarani Devi and Sanamacha Chanu also could not bag any medal.

On top of that, Chanu and Pratima Kumari tested positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs, which damaged the country`s image. In fact, that was the only time Indian sportspersons, in any discipline ever, were held for doping at the Olympics.

Four years later, L Monika Devi was also stopped from boarding the flight to Beijing at the last-minute for doping.

The drug menace continued to haunt Indian weightlifting till 2010. Barely days after the country was saved from international ban, which included missing the Commonwealth Games, Sanamacha Chanu once again failed a NADA dope test, her second offence after being caught at Athens Olympics.

India have learnt the lesson the hard way after two international suspensions, besides a number of individual suspensions.

During the 2010 Commonwealth Games, national coach Harnam Singh had admitted that the lifters` biggest challenge was to end the tournament on a dope-free note and he was happy to have achieved the target.

"Our main aim was to keep it dope-free and we succeeded on that front. But on the field we could not execute our training performance the way we would have liked to," Harnam had said after India ended up winning just eight medals, including two golds.

It is expected that London will see the beginning of a new chapter in Indian weightlifting with Ravi and Soniya being considered the dark horses.

India earned two quota places for the London Olympics – one each in men`s and women`s sections (Ravi Kumar in 69kg and Soniya in 48kg) – during the Senior Asian Championships in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.

India finished fifth in the men`s team standings with 134 points and fourth in the women`s section with 93 points to earn the places. Little is expected of the London-bound lifters and Soniya does not mind it one bit as she is keen on springing a surprise at the mega-event.

Asserting that if she maintains her present form and manages to reach the 178kg mark, India may end up with an unexpected medal in weightlifting, Soniya, who is joint 10th in the latest world rankings, said, "I lifted 75kg in snatch to win the bronze, while 100kg in clean and jerk. I finished fourth overall with a total of 175kg at the Asian Championship.

"I also did well in the World Championships with a total lift of 171kg and finished sixth overall. If I can reach around 178kg at the Olympics, I can certainly win a medal. And right now I`m doing better than that at the training."

The 32-year-old Manipuri girl, a 2010 CWG silver medallist, may just pull up a surprise if lady luck decides to smile on her but that would depend on the participants from other countries, especially China.

China will be represented by only four women lifters in seven weight categories, and India would hope that in 48kg, in which Soniya will contest, there is no Chinese entry.

"In 48kg category, there will be just one `A` group no matter how many lifters take part. A lot will depend on whether China opt to field their lifters in this category. Besides China, Turkey and Thailand are also expected to pose some threat," Dronacharya awardee Hansa Sharma, who is Soniya`s coach, told PTI.

Meanwhile, this is the first Olympic quota place India has earned in men`s weightlifting after 12 years since the 2000 Olympics when Thandava Murthy Muthu competed in the 56kg category and finished 16th with a total lift of 245kg.

The CWG gold medallist Ravi, who had lifted a total of 311kg (141+170) to finish 19th at the World Championships and bagged sixth spot at the Asian championships with a similar show, is confident of improving his performance.

The 24-year-old lifter from Orissa, who is joint 15th in the world, said he is lifting about 330kg in training and is aiming to lift at least 335kg to 337kg during the upcoming Games, commencing on July 27.

Only World No. 1 Chao Wu of China (342kg) has lifted more than Ravi and he said if he achieves his target, he might well be in medal contention. "I`m lifting 330kg in training and aiming to lift 335-337kg in London. If I can repeat my training performance at the Games, I can finish within the medal tally," Ravi told PTI.