After what happened in Rio, I never imagined I'd be here - Mirabai on CWG gold

'Knew Mirabai could win Gold at the International level' - Anita Chanu (2:49)

Mirabai Chanu's weightlifting coach, Anita Chanu, talks about training Mirabai, nurturing her talent and what makes sportspersons from Manipur stand out. (2:49)

For a sport that appears to be all things muscle, brawn and gruff, Mirabai Chanu is remarkably girly. She cups her palms over her mouth, revealing dainty-looking fingers in sky-blue polish, giggles often and is barely audible if you're a few steps away.

"This is such a huge moment for me."

In six flawless lifts, Mirabai sent Commonwealth Games records tumbling in snatch (80 kg, 84 kg, 86 kg), clean and jerk (103 kg, 107 kg, 110 kg) and total (196 kg) in the 48 kg category. Launching the barbell into the air in a final explosive thrust, she broke into a wide smile at the Carrara Indoor Stadium on Thursday. You couldn't tell that she had twice her body weight floating overhead.

Mirabai's medal was never in doubt. In November last year, she won gold at the World Championships, becoming only the second Indian weightlifter after Karnam Malleswari in 1995 to do so. She had lifted 194 kg then to set a new national record.

"After what happened in Rio, I never imagined I'd be here." She had managed only one clean lift in six attempts in August 2016. The disappointment left her so gutted that she came back to train at the national camp in Patiala immediately after Rio.

It pushed her into the abyss of despair and on the brink of quitting the sport.

Now, she looks back gratefully. "I think because of Rio I pushed myself to work harder, had weekly sessions with the psychologist and today I'm a lot tougher mentally. My family also stood behind me."

On Thursday, she bent to touch the barbell and then her forehead in an act of prayer and with cheeks full of air, her face not giving away the tension in her sinews, she lifted India to its first gold medal at Gold Coast. In the Glasgow edition four years ago, she won silver.

Much like Gururaja, who opened India's medals tally on Thursday by winning silver in the 56 kg category, Mirabai too was troubled by the absence of a physio at the competition venue. "It's very difficult to compete without a physio in the team especially in our sport. More than anything else, it gives the athlete mental strength. You know you won't have to worry about recovery or aches."

"I think because of Rio I pushed myself to work harder, had weekly sessions with the psychologist and today I'm a lot tougher mentally." Mirabai

Hours before her own competition, she admits to having had a foreboding sense of fear.

"There was a power outage at the Games Village so I couldn't watch Gururaja's lifts. But when I heard that he had a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I started getting worried thinking about my lifts. After all I've not had very good luck in the past," she says, laughing. It wasn't without reason. She had missed three lifts at the Commonwealth Championships last year.

Growing up, much like girls her age in Manipur, she worshipped Kunjarani Devi, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist weightlifter from her state. "I wanted to be like her. We all did." She moved from her village Nampok to Imphal in her teens to train at the State weightlifting center and soon got noticed.

During the trials for the Rio Olympics, she even surpassed her idol. Lifting a total of 192 kg, she broke a 12-year-old national record set by Kunjarani at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

As she walked out after her gold medal on Thursday, local spectators requested to be photographed with her and sought her out for autographs. A few Indians raced to congratulate her in Hindi and hugged her. It was a rare, moving sight.

But she knows she can't afford to get giddy over this success. She knows a Commonwealth medal isn't the surest test in her sport. "Asian Games is the toughest event for us. All the Chinese and Thailand lifters will be there. But now when I think of it, nothing seems difficult. Not 2020 either."

She grins when she realises her earrings, five miniature Olympic rings, haven't gone unnoticed. "Pretty isn't it. It's gold," she says, sheepishly.

It's also her way of saying that's where she's headed next.