Weightlifting: Punam wins gold, Vikas gets bronze at the Commonwealth Games

Punam Yadav. Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Punam Yadav won India's fifth gold medal at the Commonwealth Games winning in the Women's 69kg weightlifting event. In the men's 94 kg category, Vikas Thakur won a bronze to add to India's medal tally.

Punam lifted a total of 222kg (100 snatch and 122 clean and jerk) to beat England's Sarah Davies -- her closest competitor -- to take her second medal at the Commonwealth Games. She won bronze at the 2014 Glasgow Games. Vikas, on the other hand, lifted a combined total of 351 kg (159 kg in snatch and 192 kg in clean and jerk) to win his second medal after winning silver in Glasgow in the men's 85 kg category.

In the women's 69kg event, Punam finished on top the charts after lifting 100kg in her final attempt in the snatch and took that momentum to the clean and jerk lifting 118 kg in her first attempt. In a close contest, she failed to lift 122kg in her second clean and jerk attempt, but a clean lift on the third saw her confirm the medal.

Weightlifting has been a way out of poverty for the 22-year-old Yadav. Her father, in the village of Chandmari, on the outskirts of Varanasi, had two other daughters and a son to provide for on his meager earnings as a small-time farmer.

Elder daughter Shashi was the first to start training as a weightlifter at the STC (SAI training center) in Varanasi, with the hope of securing a government job. Punam joined a year later, followed eventually by youngest daughter Pooja. Their father's income wasn't nearly enough to pay for the diet for all three athletes, and so the family made the decision to support the most promising athlete of them all - Punam.

"When we saw that she had talent, we supported her as much as we could. We used to sell milk from our buffalo to make some money but I would sneak a glass of milk for Punam before selling the rest. At other times, I would save my food and give it her, so she would have something extra to eat," says elder sister Shashi. The family's sacrifices would eventually count for something. In 2014, Yadav won a bronze medal at the Asian Junior Championships and followed that up with another bronze at the Commonwealth Games. That medal did much to ease the family's burden, with Punam now employed by the Railways.

Yadav continued to enjoy success. She won the Commonwealth Championships in 2015 and after moving up a weight category to 69kg last year, took a silver at the 2017 edition of the Commonwealth Championships with a total lift of 217kg. She improved on that at the 2017 World Championships, finishing a creditable 9th with a total of 218kg.

Her goal though had been the Commonwealth Games. A few days before the team's departure she had told ESPN how much the tournament meant for her. "I want to do more for my family. I want to keep winning medals so they will be proud of me," she said.

Vikas Thakur wins bronze

In the men's 94 kg, Thakur comfortably lifted 152 kg in his first snatch attempt - a weight higher than most of his other competitors - helping him move to the top-three almost immediately. His second attempt of 155 kg, again successful, set a new personal best for him. He bettered it even further by successfully lifting 159 kg -- five kilos more than his previous best of 154 kg -- in his third attempt. By the end of the round, he sat in the second position, nine points behind eventual silver medallist, Canada's Boady Santavy, who created a Games record by lifting 168 kg.

In clean and jerk, he looked confident as he successfully completed his first attempt of 192 kg. His next two attempts, however, went in vain as he failed to lift 200 kg, four kilos more than his personal best of 196 kg. Papua New Guinea's Steve Kari created a Games and Commonwealth record lifting 216 kg, further winning gold with a combined total of 370 kg.

Thakur is no stranger to podium finishes at the Commonwealth level. At just 19-years old, he won a silver at the 2013 Commonwealth Championships in the men's 85kg category. A year later, he won silver in the same weight class on his Commonwealth Games debut in Glasgow. Although he enjoyed a fair amount of success at the weight class, winning a gold at the 2015 Asian Championships and setting a national record later that year, he eventually had to move up a weight division, following the emergence of Venkat Rahul Ragala.

While Thakur took time to settle in to the 94kg weight division, he showed his ability to fight for medals. At the 2017 Commonwealth Championships -- his first international tournament in the new weight division, he had secured a bronze with a total lift of 341kg. He would improve on that once again at the World Championships lifting a total of 351kg.

He only finished 12th at the Worlds, but his goal, he says, had always been to perform at the Commonwealth Games. At 10, his father had introduced him to the sport with the target of competing at the 2010 Delhi Games. While that target wasn't met, Thakur fulfilled his father's dreams by medaling in Glasgow.

"The 2014 Commonwealth Games were the biggest achievement of my life. I had never thought I would get to stand on the podium and watch the India flag go up. That changed my life. It is my aim to repeat that at the Commonwealth Games this time too," he had said.

And as fate would have it, he did so.