Northeast and sport have always gone hand in hand. While it was Dingko Singh and Kunjarani Devi who were flagbearers in the 1990s, they were followed by Mary Kom, Sarita Devi and Lovlina Borgohain in boxing, Mirabai Chanu, Bindyarani Devi and Jeremy Lalrinnuga in weightlifting and Sushila Devi in judo.
“I grew up in the midst of physical activity,” Jeremy, whose father was a nationallevel boxer, said. “When I did well in the Youth Olympics, the dream only got bigger. That I will also have to do it at the senior level. Seeing Mirabai (Chanu) do it in Tokyo we all started to believe we can do it at the biggest stage.”
For Bindyarani, whose father runs a small grocery store and brother is still unemployed, sport is the means to help the family. “We did not have a cable connection at home. On the day of my competition, the connection was finally taken and my father shut his grocery store for the evening to watch my event. The medal means a lot to me and will help me do something for my family,” she said.
While facilities have become much better in the Northeast in the last decade, standout performances at the big events make the real difference. When Lovlina won a medal in Tokyo, a proper road to her house was literally constructed overnight. With dignitaries from around the region wanting to meet her, her village got a face lift.
Mirabai helped put things in perspective, “Things have not come easy. In the N o r t h e a s t , sport is an opportunity to make a difference to families and get a better life. It is a lifeline. Today all of India has showered their love on me. Think what this will do for the kids in the region and how much they will want to play sport. It is a chain reaction and I don’t think there is any stopping now,” she said.
At a time when we speak of mental strength as a key to success in sport, it is something that stands out in most of these athletes. For Bindyarani, it was a make of break lift in her last attempt in the Clean and Jerk.
She had failed to lift 114 kgs and was going for 116 to clinch the silver. It takes a lot of courage and self-belief to be able to pull it off and that comes from having faced adversity. “You are right. It is about the burning desire to do well for your country. To show the world what we can do. Sport is about respect. It earns us the respect we deserve. So you know how important it is for us,” Jeremy said.