CWG 2022Sports

The big gold dream to end small town crime: Why Sanket Sargar desperately wanted gold at Commonwealth Games

The stench and soiled reputation of Sanket Sargar’s locality in Sangli — Shinde Maala — has weighed on his mind, for all 21 years of his life. Notorious for murders, illicit businesses and “maaraa maari” (brawls) that made the locality a no-go zone in the district, Sanket grew up knowing his neighbourhood couldn’t just shake off the reputation.

With the family making a living from a tea and snacks stall, the Sargars could live with financial hardships, but even the innumerable police crackdowns couldn’t repair the area’s sullied reputation. Maybe, a Commonwealth Games gold could change that.

On Saturday, after narrowly missing the gold, settling for silver instead, Sanket, his right arm ligaments loosely held together in gauze and strappings to last the medal ceremony after an injury to the forearm and elbow, said: “Gold to lena hi lena that. Toh risk lena hi tha na (Gold had to be taken, so risks had to be taken too)”.

Malaysian Mohamed Anik bin Kasdan jumped on him for the gold snatched from the final lift with a CWG record of 142kg (249kg total). The signal was just 1 kg behind with 248 (113 + 135). He later said, “It was important to complete the lift so I didn’t risk the snatch, but I probably could have done over 113kg.”

Sanket remained disappointed, the missing gold not paving the way for his maiden Commonwealth Games silver medal. “My district Sangli has only wrestler Maruthi Mane who has won at the international level. After that nobody. I wanted to win gold. I’m so disappointed that I couldn’t. I worked for this for four years. China Nahi tha medal (I shouldn’t have let it go),” he said.

Describing his first attempt at 137 kg — his second lift of clean and jerk – when he winced in visible pain on the overhead extension, he said there was no dilemma in his head about going for the gold, even at the risk of injury. “Sir was telling me, it’s going to pain a lot. They were worried. But hum iske liye jeete hai (we live for this). I had to do it,” he said about the wild second go at the weight.

The Malaysian, who Sanket’s Sangli coach Mayur Sinhasane had kept an eye on through the South East Asian Games, was about to pull a fast one, literally. Dangling a challenge, with an intent of 140 kg on clean and jerk, he pegged back to 138 kg on his opener, before lifting a monster 142 kg to rub it in, on his final lift, even as Sanket’s arm gave way under him.

“Suddenly the load came on my hand,” Sanket said about the doomed concentric at 137 kg. “I heard something snap in my hand,” he said, still traumatised by the memory half an hour later.

At his training centre in Sangli, Digvijay Vyayamshala, lifters are encouraged to say “Jai Hind” before loading every lift, to respect the equipment, and to think of sport as a duty to the nation. While neighbouring Kolhapur has produced several sportspersons of international repute, Sangli has watched with envy and hoped to kick off a sporting resurgence of its own through a handful of weightlifting clubs.

Shinde Maala, mired in criminal activities, had two international weightlifters, Basheer Shaikh and Sunil Naik, who tried to break through in the 1980s and 1990s, but none could win a medal.

“Silvers can be forgotten. Golds are memorable, but never easy to win,” said coach Sinhasane, about the heartbreak of coming second. The feeling of coming second is familiar – Sangli felt it concerning Kolhapur; the residents of Shinde Maala felt it when they watched big banks come up in huge towers all around them, while their locality remained stagnant.

Sanket spent a season in painful rehabilitation from an elbow injury as a junior; he will need more of that resilience again. Life will be back to beetroot-carrot juices his coach prepares, egg and whey blitzed in a mixer and heavy water intake, as he deals with yet another setback. “I want to come back for gold,” he said.

Sanket had an eventful lockdown training time. Due to its reputation, police camped permanently around Shinde Maala to enforce pandemic rules. “Police would strike with their lathis first and then ask questions later if anyone was found loitering outside. That’s the reputation. So transferring barbells to Sanket’s home was a headache… We contacted a friend of the police and asked them to escort the barbell equipment to Sanket’s home in Shinde Maala. So it was carried in a police vehicle,” recalled Sinhasane.

Among everything else, his strong desire to leave notoriety behind where he comes from makes him yearn for sleep—enough to risk a broken arm. It was a community gold paint. A silver Shinde in Birmingham would give Mala something else: a gold hope, a goal aspiration.

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