Watching Jeremy Lalrinnunga at his best is an act of suspense. The man's a coiled spring -- when he walks on to the stage, you can sense the explosiveness right underneath the surface, just waiting to be unleashed. It's enthralling, forcing you to focus all your attention on his being. Waiting for him to explode. He's ultra-no-nonsense about it too. The chalk dusting, the walking up to the stage -- all that is perfunctory, done absent-mindedly, a routine he has to finish before he gets to the thing he's being doing since he was six years old. No time is wasted there. Once at the bar, a brief pause, the lift, the big grin. That's it.
On Sunday at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Jeremy lifted 150 kg - about two and a quarter his bodyweight - onto his chest first. A momentary pause there, and straight above his head. Elbows straight, he held it up there, waiting for the green signal to go up in front of him, for the judges to indicate that it was a good lift. The moment that happened he dropped it and fell to his knees, holding his side, pain evident.
A minute later, he came back and did the exact same thing for a second time, this time lifting 160 kg. He crawled off the stage, before coming back to try 165 in his third attempt... this time falling down, rolling once and holding his elbow, his face a picture of agony. His total at the time read 300 kg, an overall Commonwealth Games record.
Samoa's Ioane Vaipava was the last lifter of the night, and ahead of his last attempt, his total read 293 kg. If he could manage 174 kg, the gold would be his. He had already broken the Games record for the clean and jerk.
Not that Jeremy was aware of any this. Attacked by intense cramps in the inner thighs, he was in incredible pain and completely blanked out whatever was happening. He didn't even know what weights he was lifting. That 160kg he lifted? That was on auto-pilot.
Let that sink in, for a moment.
Vaipava couldn't lift it, and the crowd erupted in cheers for Jeremy - led by fellow Indian athletes: Mirabai Chanu, Kidambi Srikanth and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy.
"My coach calculated and set the weight. Of course, I trusted him". After Vaipava's last lift failed, coach Vijay Sharma burst into tears and told Jeremy that the gold was his. That's when he knew it had actually happened. "I suffered a lot today," he grins before adding that the gold made it all worth it.
The respect between the top lifters was evident. Vaipava swallowed his disappointment and when he came on the podium, he garlanded Jeremy with a traditional Samoan pebble necklace. It was a beautiful moment, as was the hug that followed. "It's a mark of respect, of friendship," said Vaipava. "It was my way of showing respect to the winner."
Now, you couldn't have predicted the finish would be so tight at the start. Jeremy had started the snatch like this was a routine affair in his hometown gym. Much like his hero Mirabai Chanu had on Saturday. He started with a Games record-beating snatch lift of 136kg. And then went on to equal his personal best of 140 kg, a clean 10 kg more than the next best. That buffer is what kept him above Vaipava (who lifted 127 in the snatch).
If the clean and jerk was all about digging deep and finding strength where there was none, the snatch was just... him showing off. 140 kilograms, more than twice his bodyweight, lifted clean over his head in one smooth motion. No jelly elbows, no shaking knees. No screaming, no chest pumping.
Oh, and all this at just 19 years old, in his first Commonwealth Games. Nineteen. First.
From the blonde-tipped hair (specially done ahead of the games) to the little golden studs in his ears, Jeremy is pure swag. After the win, he said he was in dreamland, but this was the target all along. In May, Jeremy had made his phone wallpaper a screenshot of a CWG gold medal.
Jeremy Lalrinnunga, winner of a CWG gold. Jeremy Lalrinnunga, also with India's best CWG tattoo so far. pic.twitter.com/SykUDUTiEg
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) July 31, 2022
India's only youth Olympic gold medalist in lifting, this was Jeremy's "first" proper senior competition. "The senior events are in a whole different place, it's so much higher" he says, taking immense pride in finishing first on his first attempt. Not that anyone ever doubted he'd hit the ground running, though. Jeremy had always been earmarked for greatness, from very early on. Sharma recalls seeing him do a box jump as high his own forehead when he was 13, and being awestruck.
He had started weightlifting at eight years old, back home in Aizawl, Mizoram. He had started off with boxing, because his father was a national-level boxer, but the moment he saw men lifting massive weights clean over their heads, he knew this was it. "I still love boxing, and do it now and then," said Jeremy, "but there is... how do you put this... a different josh, energy, to lifting." He hurled himself into the sport, the shy kid who spoke nothing but Mizo learning Hindi with the same ease he kept increasing the size and number of metal plates at the end of his bar.
It's the explosiveness which left Sharma awestruck all those years ago that make Jeremy the lifter he is. More than pure strength, weightlifting is all about how you can go from a standing start to 100mph in the shortest time possible. As the numbers support, nobody -- in India, at the Games, in the youth scene across the world -- does it better.
Then there is his dedication to the sport. It may not be evident with the tattoos and the highlighted hair and the active social media presence, but Sharma believes that's what makes him so special. "He obviously is god-gifted but what really helps is his complete dedication to the sport. He is a young boy and there are obviously a lot of distractions. He knows how to give priority to his weightlifting. If you tell him to do something, he does it exactly and you don't have to keep making sure he is listening."
All that listening has now taken Jeremy to where he is now. Still a teenager, he's a Commonwealth Games, Commonwealth weightlifting, and Youth Olympic gold medalist. The definition of a prodigy. He says now that he'll move onto the 73kg category for the Paris 2024 Olympics, yet another jump in weight. Worrying about that is for tomorrow, though. Today he just wants the world to know that Jeremey Lalrinnunga is here to stay.