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Dream Big Gold to End Small Town Crime: Why Sanket Sargar Desperately Wanted Commonwealth Games Gold

The stinky and filthy reputation of Sanket Sargar locality in Sangli – Shinde Maala – weighed on his mind, all 21 years of his life. Notorious for his murders, illicit businesses and “maaraa maari” (fights) that made the locality a no-go zone in the district, Sanket grew up knowing that his neighborhood could not shed its reputation.

With the family living off a tea and snack stall, the Sargars could live with financial difficulties, but even countless police crackdowns could not mend the area’s tainted reputation. Maybe a Commonwealth Games gold medal could change that.

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

Malaysia’s Mohammad Aniq Bin Qasdan pounced on him for a gold medal snatch on the final lift with a CWG record 142kg (total 249kg). Sanket was only 1 kg behind with 248 (113 + 135). “Completing the lift was important so I wasn’t in danger of ripping off, but I might have been able to do over 250 pounds,” he later said.

Sanket remained dejected, the missed gold medal simply not giving way to the joy of his first-ever Commonwealth Games silver. “My Sangli district only had wrestler Maruti Mane win at international level. No one after him. I had to win the gold. I’m very disappointed that I can’t. I had worked there for four years. Chhodna nahi tha medal (shouldn’t have passed it up),” he said.

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

The Malaysian, who Mayur Sinhasane, Sanket’s coach at Sangli, had watched throughout the Southeast Asian Games, was about to take a quick shot, literally. Suspending a challenge, with an intention of 140kg on the clean and jerk, he came back to 138kg on his opener, before lifting a 142kg monster to rub it, during his last lift, even as the arm de Sanket yielded under him.

“Suddenly the load came on my hand,” Sanket said of the concentric sentenced to 137kg. “I heard something break in my hand,” he said, still traumatized by the memory half an hour later.

At his training center in Sangli, Digvijay Vyayamshala, lifters are encouraged to say “Jai Hind” before loading each lift, to respect the equipment, to see the sport as a duty to the nation. While neighboring Kolhapur produced several internationally renowned sportsmen, Sangli watched with envy and hoped to launch its own sporting resurgence through a handful of weightlifting clubs.

Shinde Maala, mired in criminal activity, had two international weightlifters, Basheer Shaikh and Sunil Naik, who tried to break through in the 1980s and 1990s, but neither could medal.

“The Silvers can be forgotten. Gold medals are memorable, but never easy to win,” coach Sinhasane said of the heartbreak of finishing second. The feeling of coming second is familiar – Sangli felt it compared to Kolhapur; the people of Shinde Maala felt it when they saw great banks rising up into huge towers all around them, while their locality remained stagnant.

Sanket spent a painful season in rehabilitation following an elbow injury as a junior; he will still need more of that resilience. Life will return to the beet and carrot juices his trainer is making, eggs and whey mixed in a blender and heavy drinking, as he faces another setback. “I want to come back for the gold,” he said.

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Sanket had a checkered lockdown training. Due to its reputation, the police permanently camped around Shinde Maala to enforce pandemic rules. “Police would hit with their lathis first and then ask questions later if anyone was found loitering outside. It’s reputation. So transferring dumbbells to Sanket’s home was a headache… We contacted a police friend and asked him to escort the dumbbell equipment to Sanket’s home in Shinde Maala. So he was transported in a police vehicle,” recalls Sinhasane.

On top of everything else, it was this intense desire to leave behind the notoriety where he came from that made him crave gold – enough to risk a broken arm. It was about painting a community of gold. A silver medal in Birmingham will give Shinde Maala something more: the hope of a gold medal, something to aspire to.