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Khelo India School Games: One eye on an Olympic medal, the other on a job, Chanam Rebina is caught between her aspirations

Sagnik Kundu
257   //    09 Feb 2018, 08:54 IST

2017 Youth Commonwealth Games - Judo
Chanam Rebina at the 2017 Youth Commonwealth Games

The crowd at the KD Jadhav IGI Stadium cheered at the top of their voices as Manipur’s Chanam Rebina hauled her opponent, Gujarat’s Gauswami Shree, with her trademark Ogoshi throw with just 40 seconds left on the clock in the final of the girls’ 57-Kg Judo at the Khelo India School Games.

They knew she would win the bout and hence, the gold medal.

Perhaps, even she knew that she would win, for her eyes glittered as she thrashed her opponent; ever so slightly if it did at all.

But to a much closer observer, it would seem that glitter in her eyes was not because of knowing that she would win; it was because she had found new hope.

Chanam was born in 2002, in a small town near Imphal in Manipur. Both her parents are farmers who work in the field daily to make a living. Growing up, she also had to lend a hand sometimes in the field, especially during the harvesting seasons. Her mother would tell her not to, she would tell her daughter to play.

But Chanam insisted on helping out.

There is one single club in the small town where judo lessons are given to the ones willing. Some of the neighbours used to send their children to this local club and Chanam’s mother thought it would be a good idea for her daughter to learn a move or two. Perhaps to take her young girl’s mind off things like farming (or not, we would never know), she forced Chanam to join the club.

“It was in 2011 when I was first introduced to judo. I was only 8 or 9 years old but my mother insisted I should go along with my friends. At first, I didn’t like it too much,” Chanam said with a shy smile on her face.

“But after that, I started liking it actually.”


Six years after she started playing judo, Chanam would go on to win a bronze medal at the 2017 Youth Commonwealth Games held in the Bahamas.

Deven Moirangthem, who is a Judo coach at SAI Imphal, accompanied the Judo team from Manipur to Khelo India School Games, which is being broadcasted on Star Sports. He relayed how they had spotted a young Chanam at a coaching camp in Imphal and had decided to bring her to the capital city. He also revealed why Chanam is so strong, physically.

“You need to be strong to play Judo. Chanam used to help her parents in the field from a very young age and I think, that’s what made her so strong physically,” he said.

Talking about her daily routine, the 16-year-old youngster said, “There are two training sessions every day. One in the morning and one in the evening. Each training session lasts two to two-and-a-half hours. But I can’t train as much as I would like to because I also have to attend school regularly.”

Diet and rest are vital factors to build body strength, especially for contact sports athletes. When asked about Chanam’s daily eating habits, Moirangthem conceded with a sigh, “As I said, strength and endurance are very important for which diet and rest are necessary. But Chanam doesn’t get a proper diet since she is from a humble background. She eats what the rest of the family eats and so, it’s natural.”

“I hope that Chanam will go a long way in the future. She is very young and she has long trainable years ahead of her in which she can improve further. This Khelo India platform is a huge thing for her. Even after winning the bronze medal at the Youth Commonwealth Games, there was not much backing for her. Hopefully, if she gets selected from here, she will get proper facilities to train,” he added.

When asked about what he expects from his ward, Moirangthem was aware to not let his guard down. “An athlete’s attitude is very important, especially in Judo. In my opinion, those who are more extravagant on the mat, those who shout a lot during fights, they don’t progress a lot. In that way, she is more calm and composed. But she has to control her emotions better.

“Also, she has loads of room to improve. I think, at the international level, if she can reduce her weight a little and take part in the lower weight categories, she can win many medals for India.”

On being asked what she yearns for, Chanam replied without any hesitation, “First, I want to become the first Judo player from India to win an Olympic medal and then, I want a job so that my parents never have to work again.”

Sagnik Kundu
I spend every day at office wondering how they got the table through the door.
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