Mirabai Chanu poised for comeback with one eye on Tokyo 2020

Mirabai Chanu. Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Nine months after her international career was halted due to a back injury, former weightlifting world champion Mirabai Chanu will return to competition. Chanu is part of an eight-member Indian team that will be participating in the EGAT's Cup from Thursday in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Chanu, 24, is taking part in the tournament with an eye on qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Under the norms of the International Weightlifting Federation, athletes will qualify for the Olympics on the basis of ranking points earned from competitions held between three periods - November 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019; May 1, 2019 to October 31, 2019; November 1, 2019 to April 30 2020.

However, athletes are also required to compete in at least one 'Silver Level' tournament - Gold level tournaments are the World and Asian Championships - in each of those periods.

The EGAT's Cup is the only 'Silver Level' tournament remaining that an Indian can take part in this year, which means that Chanu had no choice but to compete in Chiang Mai.

"There are other silver level tournaments but those are either invitational (Japan-China-Korea friendship tournament) or only for men (Fajr Cup in Iran). So we have to take part at the EGAT's Cup," explains national coach Vijay Sharma.

Chanu has not taken part in any tournament since she won a gold in the women's 48kg category at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, failing to defend the world title she had won in 2017. It was a layoff forced on to her by a back ailment, the cause of which her coaches are still unable to explain.

"For a long time we were simply trying to understand what was the nature of her injury. Doctors are still not clear what was the cause of her pain but she returned to training about four months ago," says Vijay.

Unsurprisingly, the coaches aren't pushing Chanu too hard.

"She has recovered completely now but we don't want to put too much load on her. We have a lot of time on our hands ahead of the important tournaments for this season so we started her training quite slow. Right now she is only 85% of her peak load," says Vijay of Chanu, who holds the Indian record of 196kg (86kg snatch and 110kg clean and jerk).

According to Vijay, Chanu's target at the EGAT's Cup is modest.

"We are only looking at the tournament as an exposure tournament. She is carrying a throat infection right now but we aren't very worried about that. There isn't any pressure on her to do push herself too hard."

The competition will also be the first for Chanu in the 49kg category, which replaces the 48kg division in which she won her Commonwealth and World golds in. It's a change that coach Vijay believes will only help the Indian.

"She has had to cut weight to make the 49kg division and when you cut weight while training for a competition, it sometimes causes you to pick up injuries. With this new weight division we hope Mirabai will be able to avoid injuries."

Chanu's first serious test of the year will come a couple of months later at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Ningbo, China.

"The competition at the Asian Championships will be very tough but that's also the tournament where we will get a good idea of her physical condition," says Vijay.