Arunachal’s Sambo lights up weightlifting ring with new C&J NR
Sambo Lapung displaying Arunachal flag on the podium

Ahmedabad: For Arunachal Pradesh’s Sambo Lapung, the new national record holder in men’s 96kg category, weightlifting was an escape route to get rid of his boxing coach Rupak’s beating and a bloody nose after each bout at the Sports Authority of India’s Naharlagun centre.

Born to a farmer from East Kameng district, Sambo is third among six boys and three girls in the family. He was inspired to take up sports after watching his elder sister Chitung Lapung take part in various athletics meets across the region.

On Monday, Lapung’s effort of an overall hoist of 346kg (Snatch 148kg; Clean and Jerk 198kg) gave him the gold medal, which he wants to use as a launching pad to prepare for the busy season ahead. More than the medal at the 36th National Games, Lapung’s main goal was to break Services lifter Vikas Thakur’s national record of 197kg in Clean and Jerk.

“It feels good to win a gold medal at the National Games, but what’s more important for me was I could breach the national record. I came to the National Games to compete with myself and had one eye on the national record. I had been lifting more than that during my training sessions but my coach wanted me to get the monkey off my back first and start afresh for the season,” Lapung said.

Services lifter Jagdish and Haryana’s Parveen took the silver and bronze medals, respectively with total lifts of 331kg and 312kg.

Weightlifting, however, wasn’t Lapung’s first choice, he had switched over from boxing to escape from his childhood coach’s thrashing.

“I tried boxing for a year (2008) before switching over to weightlifting as the centre had only four options to choose from and weightlifting was the next best option for me. The boxers and the weightlifters would train in the same hall and the weightlifting coach (Kumar sir) would very leniently train his wards, on the other hand, our boxing coach would beat us up for the slightest of mistakes, besides getting thrashed during bouts, resulting in a bloody nose. I was about to leave the centre before my sister intervened,” he recalled.

“What’s the point in getting thrashed both in the ring and off it?” he said with a smile.

Lapung, who hails from a lower middle-class family, felt joining sports would at least give him two full meals of the day, along with new clothes. He later took it seriously to support his sister, who till then was the sole bread earner of the family. 

“My eldest sister (Chitung) was an athlete, and she got a fair idea about the prospect of sports. She pursued me to try sports after which I thought of trying it out to spend my time and get two full meals of the day along with new clothes. Later I found sports could provide a means of livelihood to support the family as my sister was the lone bread earner till then. It happens in every lower middle-class family, and we are a family of 12, with two mothers,” he said.

“Initially, I had zero knowledge about the sport, but started taking it up seriously after the current vice president of the Arunachal Pradesh weightlifting association Abraham K Techi, who got in a coach from ASI spotted my talent. I started with 48kg before moving up: there are several talented lifters from the state, and some of them didn’t turn up as their weight categories are not here in the competition.

Still struggling to meet both ends with the limited income from the Army, Lapung, a Havaldar, said his earnings are not enough to support his family, as his requirements for supplements demand loans from banks every year. 

“You can check my bank account, there are loans to the tune of Rs 11-12 lakh every year. It’s been the same for the last four years, every year you clear a part of the loan, you need another for the next competition.”

“Whatever we earn is just peanuts, all the loan amount is spent on buying supplements to support my career. Services spend on everyone alike but it’s isn’t enough since the dietary requirements of a lower weight category lifter have no match to higher category lifters (Hati ka khana aur chuha ka same nahi ho sakta na).”  

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