A promising weightlifter burdened by poverty, apathy

March 31st, 2009 - 11:45 am ICT by IANS  

By Sukanta Sahu
Bhubaneswar, March 31 (IANS) A silver medal in the 2002 Asian Powerlifting Championship and three gold medals and a silver medal in the recently concluded edition of the Federation Cup in Jamshedpur. The government seems to be saying this is not enough - not enough for it to relieve powerlifter Mandakini Mahanta of the burden of meeting her expenses.

But Mandakini, 27, continues to lift weights as she has done unflinchingly for the past 14 years.

The gritty woman could not travel to Melbourne for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but now even the 2010 Delhi Games looks like a mirage. “I don’t have money to participate in the Commonwealth Games. With the modest means of my parents and no official support, it is a daunting task,” a helpless Mandakini told IANS with tears welling in her eyes.

Her father Shyamsundar Mahanta is a retired government school teacher. Two acres of land and his meagre pension are all he has for Mandakini and her two college-going siblings. “My father has always been supportive and encouraging. But I can’t expect him to help me financially.”

Though the doting father is well aware of his daughter’s rare talent, he doesn’t deny the stark truth that without financial backing, she can’t get the required exposure. Her absence from the 2010 Games could well bring a premature end to her career.

But Mandakini’s efforts haven’t gone totally unnoticed.

Baripada-based social activist Bijay Mishra has stepped in. “She is an amazing weightlifter. I spotted her talent long ago; since then I have borne her expenses of equipment and coaching,” says Mishra.

Mishra has been paying her gym fees - for the four-hour daily training sessions - since Mandakini was nine. In this lonely journey, he has been her “friend and a guide”.

In the recently concluded Federation Cup Championships, Mandakini bagged a gold medal, taking her tally to 10 golds and seven silvers. She was hailed as the seventh strongest woman in the country.

“She has been a phenomenon. She lifted 117.5 kg in squat, 62.5 kg bench press, 150 kg in dead lift in this championship, making her a certain medal contender for India in international events,” says her coach Paresh Chandra Mahanta.

But the medals are little consolation. Having stretched herself to the maximum, Mandakini now has no control over the turn her career takes. She has already been forced to knock on the doors of the Mayurbhanj Athletic Association, Rajya Sabha member Birabhadra Singh and former central minister Jual Oram.

Recalls Mandakini, “I needed Rs.1.5 lakhs (Rs.150,000) to participate in the Asian Powerlifting Championship. Oram turned a deaf ear to my pleas and Singh contributed a meagre Rs.5,000.”

Subsequently, she posted an advertisement in a local daily seeking sponsors. But Mandakini didn’t have money to foot the bill for the advertisement either. Fortunately, the paper agreed to bear the expenses.

Though help was quick to come, she had already missed the bus. By the time Oriya film star Uttam Mohanty came forward to bail her out, the tournament was over.

While her international pursuits were on hold, the state government said it would appoint her as a sub-inspector in the police force, so that she could pursue her vocation. But three years on, Mandakini is still waiting for the appointment letter.

(Sukanta Sahu can be contacted as sukantasahu08@rediffmail.com)

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