Achinta Sheuli is a little different from the other two weightlifters who won gold medals at the 2022 Commonwealth Games golds before him. By now, of course, you must have read this: Achinta Sheuli, Howrah boy, 20, CWG gold medallist with a combined lift of 313 kg, a Games record. The other two are of course, the Mirabai Chanu and the prodigy that is Jeremy Lalrinnunga. All three train together under Vijay Sharma. Both Jeremy and Achinta idolise Mirabai, but the three of them are also thick friends. This was evident when the other two bounded along backstage to celebrate with Achinta after his medal ceremony was done.
Boisterous and happy and loud, Jeremy and Mirabai let out whoops and took turns to jump into bear hugs. All through this Achinta smiled shyly, loving the support, while simultaneously trying to calm them down so he could leave and get his media interactions over with.
The duo had been raucous in their support for him during the competition too. "I didn't really see them during the lift - you don't really see anything from the stage - but I could clearly hear their voices. [Mirabai] Didi's and Jeremy's," he chuckles.
Even as he speaks about them, though, you can notice the difference. Where Jeremy and Mirabai ooze charisma with absurd ease, Achinta is quieter, more reserved. With deep-set eyes and a face that has just the hint of a smile flickering on it, what we usually see on the stage is just about what we see off it. The roar at the end of his last lift was the one burst of emotion he allowed himself, publicly. After that just a tired smile and polite thank yous to everyone wishing him.
Toward the end of the event, there had been a slight scare, as Malaysia's Erry Muhammed Hidayat (son of Malaysian lifting royalty Hidayat Hamidon) tried two mammoth lifts of 176kgs but they were always going to be a little too much.
Sheuli, meanwhile, had put pressure on himself after he failed one lift of 170kg - looking absolutely dejected after it - before nailing the same weight on his last attempt. Then came that guttural roar. The pressure releasing.
Not that pressure is a new thing for Achinta. "I started lifting in 2011," he says. It's the same year Jeremy started too. "During that time I used to love it, it was great fun. Till 2013. Which is when my dad expired." Achinta was nine at the time.
"After that I didn't really have much support. My brother dropped out of weightlifting, for me. Because he believed in me." Achinta's brother, Alok, was a pretty good weightlifter himself. "I started lifting after seeing him do it in the gym," he says. But their mother wasn't able to run the household by herself, and Alok had to join her in doing handmade embroidery, zari work. Even that wasn't enough, and Achinta had to pitch in too.
Every day he oscillated between the dexterity and sharp precision of the zari needle and the power and raw explosiveness of the weightlifting bar. You'd be hard pressed to find a more extreme swing in skillset "During those times, I used to work, train, work, train. I would wake up at 6.30, have tea and start working by 7. Then I'd go for a bit of training at 9.30, and after an hour or so I'd go to school. After school, back to training and then back home by 8. Then a more work. And then repeat."
After all that work, though, my first national medal came in 2015." Which is when everything changed. With the medal came the national camp, the junior one. Once there, he knew he was within touching distance. "I just wanted to compete internationally, keep improving my performances." He did, and he did. The medals kept flowing in - "junior, senior... which is when I got called up to the senior camp. As my performances improved there, I knew I needed to medal at these Games."
That period, though, before all the formal training at the camp, before the glory of the medals... that is the one he believes has shaped him into who he is today. Naturally. "Whatever wrong happens to me now... I don't think it could ever be more difficult than the situation I was in [in 2013]. My father expired so suddenly. Neither my mummy, my brother, nor I knew how to do anything. That's when I needed to believe in myself more than ever." Alok had convinced him at the time lifting was the way out. From a fun activity it had suddenly become a possible escape route to a promised land. The fact that Achinta listened to his brother is borne out by the gold hanging around his neck.
It doesn't feel like the medal weighs heavily on him, though, It's almost like he believes, just like his struggles - which he talks about freely, without drama, just stating the facts - his triumphs are just more pieces that fit into the jigsaw that is him.
The non-exuberance of the celebration, and the critical self-assessment of the one failed attempt out of six meanwhile seems to suggest that there will be more, so much more. For Achinta Sheuli, embroider-turned-lifter, this is just the start.