At the end of the snatch discipline in the men's 69kg weightlifting category of the Commonwealth Games, Deepak Lather had the second best lift in the competition. His lift of 136kg was just one kilo behind the leader. With only the clean and jerk discipline remaining, Lather, at least on the basis of the numbers he had posted, was in contention to add to India's gold medal haul.
At only 18-years-old, Lather would have become the youngest Indian to win a CWG gold had he done so. It would have been the latest win in a prodigious career. Lather first set a national record (in the snatch in the men's 62kg category) when he was just 15-years-old. He remains the youngest national record holder. He is also the youngest Indian to participate at the World Championships.
Yet, Lather's age, which marked him out as a precocious talent is also a limiting factor. Lather's youth severely restricts the weight he can lift in the clean and jerk competition. Despite managing a personal best on the lift, Lather's clean and jerk was only the sixth best of the competition, which meant that he ended up with a bronze.
The snatch, in which Lather excels, is a very technical motion in which the bar is pulled up from the ground, caught at the bottom of a squat and raised overhead in a single movement. The limiting factor is technique. The clean and jerk is split into two movements, which allow the lifter to rest the bar on their chest after a clean pull before pushing it overhead. Physical strength makes a huge difference and allows the lifter to fight and lift the weight. While technique can be taught early, (as was the case with Lather who learned his craft at the Army Sports Institute in Pune), power, especially in the legs, takes many years to develop and mature.
A golden ratio exists between the snatch and clean and jerk - simply put, the lower the better. An elite lifter's snatch should be about 83 percent of his clean and jerk. For K Ravi Kumar who holds the Indian records in the 69kg category for both the snatch (146kg) and clean and jerk (176), this percentage is 82.95. For world record holder Liao Hui, that percentage is 83.83. At Gold Coast, gold medal winner Gareth Evans best snatch was 83.435 percent of his clean and jerk of 163kg. Kumar, Hui and Davies were 22, 23 and 31 at the time of those lifts, with their leg strength already well developed.
For Lather, on the other hand, the snatch was 85.53 percent of his clean and jerk. In a sport where medals are determined by a matter of kilos, these few percentage points are crucial. This percentage was in fact made to look better than it was owing to the fact that he did a sub par snatch and a personal best in the clean and jerk. Lather's personal best of 138kg in the snatch, recorded at the Commonwealth Championships last year, would have been 86.79 percent of his clean and jerk.
Coaches have little doubt this will eventually be the case. "Deepak is already 5'9" so he can build more muscle," national coach Vijay Sharma has said. And here the fact that Lather is only 18, once again will come to his advantage. "He has many years to go before he develops his real strength. We have yet to see his potential," coach Sharma says.