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Venkat Rahul Ragala puts on emphatic display to win historic Gold

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Indian weightlifter Venkat Rahul Ragala lifted a combined total of 338 kg (151 kg in snatch and 187 kg in clean and jerk) in the 85 kg category to win India's fourth gold medal at the ongoing Commonwealth Games. His win takes India's medal tally to six, which includes three other golds, one silver and one bronze medal, all in weightlifting. He further became the first Indian to win gold in the 85 kg weight category at the Games.

In snatch, his first attempt of 147 kg was higher than all his other competitors, a success that gave him an immediate lead. His second attempt of 151 kg was unsuccessful, but he soon bounced back in his third attempt to lift the same successfully, to go joint top with Samoa's Don Opeloge.

In clean and jerk, his first successful attempt of 182 kg put him in the lead again. He was equally confident in his next attempt, successfully picking up 187 kg to increase his lead. His third attempt was unsuccessful, but was enough for him to finish on top of the podium.

Here is all you need to know about the country's latest gold medallist.

The favourite

Ragala entered the Games as the massive favourite to take gold. At the Commonwealth Championships last year, he finished 19 kilos ahead of Opeloge, who took silver. Ragala's total of 351kg was a personal best and a new national record, as were his snatch (156kg) and clean and jerk (195kg) attempts.

The gold at the Commonwealth Championships was only the latest prize in a successful career for the 21-year old. Back in 2014, Ragala had become the first -- and to date the only - Indian weightlifter to medal at the Youth Olympics, winning silver in the 77kg competition in 2014. He had followed that up with a gold in the Asian Junior Championships.

The Chiranjeevi connection

It hasn't always been that easy for Ragala, who hails from Stuartpuram, a town in Andhra Pradesh with an outsized reputation for crime. The cult Chiranjeevi flick Stuartpuram is based on the same town.

The first step

It was his father Madhu Ragala, a former kabaddi player and weightlifter, who initiated him in the sport at a very early age. Forced to quit for financial reasons, he ensured his son started early. "I didn't have any support in my days. I didn't want Rahul to have the same difficulty. I trained Rahul since he was one, by making him hold utensils and vessels for lifting," he says.

Despite his father's best efforts, money troubles hindered his progress at an early stage. "My father works on peoples' farms and runs a small shop. At home the problem was not about getting enough protein but whether there was enough food at all," he says.

The breakthrough

Ragala's career truly began when he took admission to the The Telangana State Sports School in Hyderabad. "At that time, my father told me that I should get in because it would ensure I would get all my meals," he says.

A steady rise through the ranks saw him enter the national camp and subsequently medal at the Asian and World level. Prior to the Youth Olympics, he dominated competition from weightlifting powerhouses China and South Korea, ultimately winning by 15kg.

"It's a good feeling when China and Korea are fighting over silver and bronze knowing they can't win gold," Narender Sharma, then chief coach of the national team had said.

The slump and recovery

His rise faltered when his mother suffered an illness. The time spent away from camp took a toll on him. "The biggest problem came because it was impossible to get a good diet at home. I was unable to properly prepare for the Olympics and I didn't take part in the trials," he says.

The shock of being unable to qualify for the tournament motivated him to return to the national camp, where he has since cemented his place in the squad.

As such, success at the Commonwealth Games remains just a stepping stone to his ultimate goal. "After the Commonwealth Games, I will target the Asian Games. I have to improve my performance by 20-25 kilos. But my ultimate target is the Olympics," he says.