Indian weightlifter Achinta Sheuli has become the toast of the nation after winning gold in the men’s 73 kg category at the ongoing Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham on Sunday, July 31.
Making his CWG debut at Birmingham’s NEC Hall, Achinta created a new Games record, heaving 313 kg (143 kg + 170 kg) to finish with a 10 kg lead over his closest competitor, Malaysia’s Erry Hidayat Muhammad.
In the process, the 20-year-old matched his personal best snatch of 143 kg and headed into the clean and jerk round with a 5 kg advantage over Erry.
Hailing from Howrah’s Deulpur village, Achinta grew up in extreme poverty. His father, a trolley rickshaw puller, passed away when he was just 12 and since then, it has been a struggle for survival for his family comprising him, his mother and elder brother. In order to make ends meet, his mother stitched embroidery and the two sons helped her while simultaneously continuing their weightlifting training.
After a while, Achinta’s elder brother Alok, who introduced him to the sport, sacrificed his own aspirations to augment the family income. Alok, however, encouraged Achinta to chase his weightlifting dream and has remained the latter’s biggest pillar of support through the crests and troughs of life.
With his unflinching determination and indomitable spirit, Achinta soon established himself as one of the brightest weightlifting prospects in India. A silver medal at the 2018 Asian Youth Championships followed by a gold at the 2019 Commonwealth Championships helped Achinta bag a Reliance Foundation elite athlete scholarship in 2019.
A couple of years later, he became the first Indian to secure a podium finish (silver) at the Junior World Championships, which landed him the job of a Havaldar with the Indian Army. A man of few words, Achinta wants to let his performances do all the talking and win more laurels for India on the global multi-sport stage.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda after his CWG gold-winning feat, Achinta gave an insight into his mental state during the event and revealed the secret behind the Indian weightlifting contingent’s stellar display so far.
Recounting the hardships of his early years, he also said how he’ll handle his newfound stardom and appealed to the West Bengal government for more support ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Here are the excerpts:
Q: Winning a record-breaking gold in your maiden CWG appearance. Has it sunk in yet?
Achinta: No, to be honest. I was quietly confident of securing a podium finish, but when you win the gold, it’s a surreal feeling. I still haven’t been able to sleep properly.
Q: How nervous were you when your nearest rival and eventual silver winner Erry Hidayat Muhammad attempted a 176 kg lift in his last two attempts?
Achinta: I was a bit tense when he first tried to lift 176 kg, but felt secure after he failed. I knew it would be difficult for him to lift 176 kg, so I was more confident of winning gold when he went for his final attempt.
Q: Tell me about your preparations for the Commonwealth Games. What does your daily routine look like?
Achinta: I reached Birmingham a month in advance. My daily routine looks like this:
7.30 a.m. – Breakfast
9.40 a.m. – Training
1.30 p.m. – Lunch
4.30 p.m. – Training
8.30 p.m. – Dinner
Q: It's raining medals for India's weightlifters at the ongoing Commonwealth Games. What’s the secret behind the weightlifting contingent’s phenomenal success?
Achinta: We knew we had great chances of winning multiple medals. We motivate each other a lot in training. It was late at night when I returned to the Games Village with my gold, but all my fellow weightlifters were there to congratulate and celebrate the moment with me. It was very special.
Q: Who’s your idol?
Achinta: Mirabai [Chanu] didi. She’s our role-model and support system.
Q: What was going through your mind when you failed to lift 170 kg in your second attempt?
Achinta: I was a little nervous, but our coach Vijay Sharma gave me a good pep talk and told me to repeat whatever I had been doing in training. I’ve practiced lifting 170 kg many times before, so I was confident when I went for my third attempt.
Q: Your close friend Jeremy Lalrinnunga won gold in the 67 kg category a few hours before your event. Did that motivate you to push harder for gold?
Achinta: Yes, it did! I wanted to prove myself as well. Although Jeremy and I are great friends, we do partake in healthy competition.
Q: India’s president Droupadi Murmu, prime minster Narendra Modi and West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee have all tweeted about your achievement. Will you now call yourself a 'star'? How is everybody celebrating back home?
Achinta: I still can’t believe that this is really happening. I don’t want to think about stardom. I want to be an improved version of myself and win more medals for India. I want to stay grounded.
I’m grateful to our honorable president, prime minister and chief minister for tweeting about me. It means a lot! My family and neighbors in Deulpur are on cloud nine. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures and videos of their celebration (laughs).
Q: Today, when the whole nation is celebrating you, do you want to remember those years of acute financial crisis?
Achinta: Of course, I want to. Achinta Sheuli is nothing without his struggles. My father died when I was just 12 years old. We lived a hand-to-mouth existence and my father was the sole breadwinner in our family. His death took away whatever little we had (pause). We even had to borrow money to perform his last rites.
The responsibility of the entire family then fell on my mother’s shoulders, who started doing zari (embroidery) work for contractors. The income was meager, but we somehow managed to survive. Later, my elder brother Alok and I took up embroidery to support our mother.
Dada was also a promising weightlifter, but he gave up his own dreams by taking up odd jobs. It’s because of my family’s sacrifice that I’m here today. I dedicate this medal to them.
Q: How much has the Reliance Foundation supported you in your journey?
Achinta: A lot! I don’t know how to thank them. I’ve been supported under the Reliance Foundation scholarship since 2019. They’ve looked after my dietary needs, given me a personal physiotherapist and helped me with all other aspects of my training.
Q: What is Achinta Sheuli’s next target?
Achinta: I want to give my best and win a medal at next year’s Asian Games. If I get a little more support from the West Bengal government, I can do well at the Paris Olympics.
Q: What kind of support do you want from the West Bengal government?
Achinta: I would request our state government to increase the prize money for state-level competitions. Youngsters need money to buy shoes, dresses and equipment. A hike in the prize money will give them a huge boost. I would also request our state government to create more job opportunities for aspiring weightlifters so that they feel more secure and can continue with their training.
Q: Mirabai wanted to eat pizza after winning her gold. What are your food cravings?
Achinta: I can’t wait to eat KFC (laughs)!