In 16-yr-old's weightlifting gold, a lift for 'criminal village'

WeightliftingVenkat Rahul Ragala, won a weightlifting gold at the recent Asian Youth Games in Guangzhou. (IE Photo)

In the cult 1991 Telugu film Stuartpuram Police Station, a railway ticket collector warns passengers to take care of their luggage as they are nearing Stuartpuram station. His advice comes to nothing as passengers are robbed anyway.

The Chiranjeevi starrer was just one of many Telugu flicks to use the legend of Stuartpuram as a lawless den of thieves as a plot device. The village in Andhra Pradesh was created as a settlement for a nomadic tribe that the British deemed 'criminal', and has not shaken that tag since.

That could change. A boy from the town, 16-year-old Venkat Rahul Ragala, won a weightlifting gold at the recent Asian Youth Games in Guangzhou. Competing in the 77-kg category, Ragala won with a lift of 142 kg in snatch and 168 kg in clean and jerk — a massive 15 kg more than his nearest competitor. It was an improvement on the junior record.

The effort would have won the teenager a silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, bronze at the Asian Games and 10th place at the Olympics. The deceptively baby-faced Ragala earlier won three golds at the Asian Championships in Yangon and a silver at the World Youth Championships in Tashkent.

"It's a good feeling when China and Korea are fighting over silver and bronze knowing they can't win gold," says Narender Sharma, chief coach.

Ragala's father Madhu too was a weightlifter who competed nationally. Forced to quit for financial reasons, he ensured his son started early. "I trained Rahul since he was one, with utensils and vessels for lifting," says Madhu.

What Sharma is worried about is the constraints that bind Ragala. The teenager says he can't help the same. "My father works on peoples' farms and runs a small shop. When I went back home this year, it wasn't about whether I was getting enough protein, but whether there was enough food at all," he says.

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