Jeremy Lalrinnunga getting some heavy lifting done even in quarantine

Jeremy Lalrinnunga is the only weightlifter in the makeshift hall at the sports training centre in Aizawl. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Lalrinnunga

Jeremy Lalrinnunga might be in the middle of a 14-day quarantine period, having flown home from the weightlifting national camp in Patiala to his hometown of Aizawl, Mizoram, but that hasn't stopped him from his only recently restarted training routine. Unlike the crash of weights and the grunts of exertion all around him at his training base in Patiala, the 17-year-old Youth Olympic champion will lift in relative silence as the only weightlifter in the makeshift hall at the sports training centre in Aizawl.

Not that he is complaining. Two weeks of quarantine would normally mean no meaningful training. Lalrinnunga, an Olympic hopeful, had already missed three months of training since the national weightlifting camp was shut owing to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. The camp had restarted training only at the start of June and had returned to the weightlifting hall even more recently.

While Lalrinnunga had a weight-training set he could use once he returned home, he expected to be taking another enforced break during the two weeks of quarantine that's mandatory for all arrivals to Mizoram. That's until he realized where he was going to be spending it. "I had no idea I was going to be quarantined at the Government Sports Training Centre in Aizawl. My room is right next to the weightlifting hall in the camp," he says over the phone from Aizawl.

The hall isn't the swanky air-conditioned, wood-floored facility like in Patiala but it will do. There are plenty of weight plates, an Olympic bar and wooden lifting platform. With all this to himself, Lalrinnunga is making the most of his good fortune. "In the morning I do general fitness training and in the evening I do weight training. I'm the only weightlifter here so I have to load all the weights on the bar myself. When I get done, I have to unrack everything myself. I will be back-squatting 160 kilos and deadlifting about 180kg so there are a lot of plates that have to be arranged. Normally when you are working out in a group, you split up this work," he says.

At first this arrangement seems like a setup for disaster. There's no one to spot Lalrinnunga, to catch him if the weight on his back is too heavy. It's entirely up to him to lift safely. Lalrinnunga, though, is not particularly worried. "These aren't really heavy weights for me. Right now, I'm only lifting something like 70 per cent of my peak loads," he says.

Considering the amount of time Lalrinnunga had been restricted to training in his room in Patiala, there's no way he would attempt to lift anything close to his best -- which stands at a total of 306kg (140kg snatch and 166kg clean and jerk). "It was just not possible to train in Patiala during the lockdown. The only thing you could do was bodyweight exercises. That is okay for general fitness but it doesn't do anything for serious competition training," he says.

Indeed, Lalrinnunga reckons he has lost some muscle during the enforced break. "Because I've not been training, I've lost weight as well. I am competing in the 67kg category and so I should be around 68kg or 69kg. But over the last two months my weight has gone down to 65 kilos. Ours is a weight-based sport so the loss of two kilos of muscle means a lot. I'll have to slowly bring that up once again," says Lalrinnunga.

Even though he has only a couple of weeks of actual time at home, Lalrinnunga is looking forward to being with his parents and four brothers. "I've missed them a lot. I've missed home cooking too. Although I'm in quarantine, my parents are bringing over food from home. There is this dish of boiled local vegetables that I'm eating a lot right now. Hopefully I'll put on some weight here," he says.

While he's glad to be back home, Lalrinnunga is already looking towards the future. "I've missed a lot of training so I'll have to be really focused if I want to be in shape for the Olympics," he says. He's in a good place in that respect. While Lalrinnunga is considered a top prospect for the 2024 Games, qualification in the postponed 2020 Olympics is a distinct possibility.

His coaches in Patiala reckon the youngster is currently in the first place to pick up the solitary Asian quota for the Olympic Games. Lalrinnunga, though, isn't satisfied to depend on just that. "It's dangerous to depend on an Asian quota. I'm looking to qualify with a world quota [to be awarded to the top eight ranked weightlifters in the world as on 30th April 2021]. I'm not sure what competitions we will be able to take part in but I think I'll have to do really well at the Junior World Championships next year in March," he says.

It's not something that Lalrinnunga expects to be easy, but he's up for the challenge, even if it means squatting 160 kilos alone while in quarantine. "I'll do whatever I have to do. There's already a lot of time that I have to make up," he says.