Weightlifting: China’s dominance with seven Olympic Gold medals at Tokyo 2020 | Sunday Observer

Weightlifting: China’s dominance with seven Olympic Gold medals at Tokyo 2020

19 September, 2021
Dajomes Barrera of Ecuador who won Women’s 76 kg
Dajomes Barrera of Ecuador who won Women’s 76 kg

The weightlifting at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games took place at Tokyo International Forum from July 24 to August 4, 2021. The number of weightlifters at these Games were 196 from 74 nations. The goal of the Olympic sport of weightlifting is simple, to lift more than anyone else. The result is pure sporting drama and a real spectator favourite.

China with an unprecedented seven gold medals and one silver medal emerged victorious in the competition at Tokyo 2020. Ecuador came second with one gold and one silver medals. The Chinese Taipei and Georgia tied for the third place with one gold and one bronze each. Meanwhile, Canada, Philippines, Qatar and Uzbekistan managed to win one gold each. Overall, 24 nations shared the 42 medals.

The forerunner of weightlifting was the lifting of heavy stones in contests of strength, a feat practiced throughout the ancient world. Weightlifting as an organized sport boasts a long history and was part of the program at the very first Olympic Games of Athens 1896.

The events at Athens 1896 and St. Louis 1904 used different techniques and all lifters competed in the same events regardless of bodyweights. Athletes were grouped by bodyweights first at Antwerp 1920, and two lifting techniques the ‘snatch’ and the ‘clean and jerk’ standardized from Montreal 1976. Women’s events were first included at the Sydney 2000.

In 2018, the International Weightlifting Federation introduced 10 new bodyweight categories for men and women, and at Tokyo 2020 each gender competed in seven of those categories. In Rio 2016, there were 260 weightlifters. However, many countries had reduced squads at Tokyo, and four were excluded from weightlifting as a result of high numbers of doping offenses.

Throughout the Olympic history, China and the former Soviet Union countries have been the most successful in weightlifting. The Chinese weightlifters won four consecutive gold medals in the men’s 69 kg category from Athens 2004 through to Rio 2016, and China’s women have won 14 of 35 gold medals since Sydney 2000.

Weightlifters from other Asian countries, as well as those from Europe, were always contenders. At Rio 2016, Lasha Talakhadze from Georgia completed a snatch of 215 kg and a clean and jerk of 258 kg in the men’s +105 kg to take the gold with a world record total of 473 kgs. Among women, Lidia Valentin Perez of Spain competing in the women’s 75 kg category won a silver in Beijing 2008, a gold in London 2012 and a bronze in Rio 2016.

Spirit of Weightlifting at Olympics

Weightlifting may seem a simple sport, but it demands supreme physical and mental control. Lifting more than twice the bodyweight from the floor to above the head is not just about mobilizing every muscle in the body. To achieve this feat of explosive power requires absolute focus, superb technique and a fighting spirit.

Weightlifters must attempt a lift within one minute of their name being called. This is increased to two minutes where successive lifts are to be attempted. The need to prepare the body and mind in such a short time can challenge the athlete’s rhythm and ability to remain calm yet energized.

In the snatch, the weight is lifted in one continuous motion and the lifter stands motionless, arms and legs extended, with feet in line. In the clean and jerk the lifter first lifts the weight on to the chest (clean), then extends the arms and legs, with feet once more in line (jerk). When the barbell is lifted, the elbows must not be bent and there should be no imbalance in the extension of the arms.

If the barbell is dropped before a signal to do so, the lift is considered a failure. Referees will also penalize failure to start a lift within the allocated time or touching the platform with any part of the body other than the soles of the feet. Each lifter is allowed three attempts at the snatch and three attempts at the clean and jerk. Their best lift in each is combined to determine their overall result.

If an athlete fails to make a valid lift with any of their three attempts in the snatch, they are eliminated from the competition and cannot proceed to the clean and jerk. When a tie occurs, the athlete who reached that total weight first in terms of time becomes the winner.

Winning an Olympic Medal for Sri Lanka

The author firmly believes, besides athletics, shooting, boxing and cricket (to be re-introduced in 2024 or 2028), weightlifting remains the only other Olympic sport in which Sri Lanka has potential to reach the Olympic podium, especially in the light bodyweight categories. So far, Sri Lanka has succeeded in weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games.

Chinthana Vidanage won the first gold for Sri Lanka in weightlifting in men’s 62 kg category at Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. His success of winning a gold in weightlifting made the sport the fourth gold medal winning for Sri Lanka. Chinthana Vidanage followed up his gold with a silver medal in 69 kg category at New Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Meanwhile, Sudesh Peiris won a silver medal at Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games under 62 kg category. Indika Dissanayake continued the medal winning trend by Sri Lankans securing a silver at Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in men’s 69 kg category.

Four New World Records at Tokyo 2020

Four world records headlined an outstanding weightlifting event at the Tokyo 2020. China’s Shi Zhiyong set the first world record in the 73 kg class to win his second Olympic gold. In winning a second Olympic gold was satisfying for Zhiyong, but the Chinese was more excited to have bettered his own world record.

“I want myself to break the record in the Olympics. So, if I didn’t make to break my own record, just a gold medal, I would feel regret,” he said. He lifted a total of 364 kgs - a colossal weight that none of the competitors even came close to at Tokyo 2020. The silver medalist Julio Mayora of Venezuela’s overall lift was 19 kgs less.

The weightlifting competition ended on the same note with Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia, breaking three world records as he heaved to his second Olympic title. The question wasn’t over who was going to win the men’s super-heavyweight for over 109 kg athletes, but it was mainly on the margin Talakhadze would win.

The 27-year Georgian’s clean and jerk in the first round was an Olympic record of 486 kgs. His second attempt of 255 kgs improved his Olympic record in the clean and jerk and total of 478 kgs. His final lift of 265 kgs concluded his perfect performance in Tokyo. Talakhadze’s world record of 488 kgs total was a whopping 47 kgs clear off the rest of the field.

China’s Superb Start in Weightlifting

China sent a full quota of four men and four women to Tokyo, and all were capable of finishing on the top step of the podium. Hou Zhihui of China won the opening contest of women’s 49 kg. The victory of Li Fabin of China in the 61 kilograms division made it two for China. The silver and bronze medals went to Eko Yuli Irawan of Indonesia – his fourth Olympic medal and Son Igor of Kazakhstan.

Son Igor, 22, married to an international volleyball player, is the only male lifter from Kazakhstan, which lost quota places because of doping violations. He had to sit and wait in the backroom as Seraj Alsaleem of Saudi Arabia had two attempts to overtake him and claim the bronze.

Alsaleem dropped his first attempt at 166 kg before he got the ‘down’ signal and was left distraught on the platform after failing with his last chance. The result means that every single medal, all 24 of them, in the lightest bodyweight categories for men and women at Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 has gone to an athlete from Asia.

In making his first clean and jerk, Li had to adjust his balance and briefly stood on one leg, kicking out sideways with 166 kgs above his head – considerably more than two and a half times his bodyweight. He finished 11 kgs clear of Irawan, whose Olympic Games record now reads bronze, bronze, silver, silver since Beijing 2008.

Irawan, 32, lifted his hopes of finally winning gold when he made his first snatch at 137 kgs then saw Li miss. But Irawan then failed with two attempts at 141 kgs while Li made two good lifts to lead by 4 kgs at halfway. Irawan was always playing catch-up from then and failed with his last two clean and jerks.

First Olympic Golds for Philippines and Ecuador

Hidilyn Diaz won the women’s 55 kg class to clinch the Philippines’s historic maiden Olympic title. The Asian nation of 108 million people has been sending athletes to the Olympics since 1924. Diaz, competing in her fourth Olympics, was tied for second after the snatch. The 31-year achieved an Olympic record and the gold medal after a clean and jerk of 127 kgs, and a total of 224 kgs.

Neisi Patricia Dajomes Barrera became the first Ecuadorian woman to win an Olympic medal with gold in the 76 kg. Wearing her usual colourful hair band, she lifted 145 kgs in her third clean and jerk attempt. That lift gave her total of 263 kgs, the best performance of the class.

Katherine Nye and Sarah Robles – US Stars

Katherine Nye’s silver medal in Tokyo was the best performance on the Olympic stage by an American weightlifter since Sydney 2000. Nye also rewrote American records in the 76 kg in the snatch of 111 kgs and the clean and jerk (138 kgs), for a total of 249 kgs.

Sarah Robles earned a place in history as the only American woman ever to win multiple Olympic weightlifting medals. She finished third in the over 87 kg class after a total of 282 kgs, adding to the bronze she won at Rio 2016.

“It’s a really big deal,” Robles said in a post-match news conference. “I’ve struggled a lot throughout my career, it almost feels like I’ve been going uphill both ways with the wind against me. Going from the bottom in the sport, to the top in the sport, to making history in this sport means a lot to me.”

During the medal ceremony after the event which took place at 4 a.m. Pacific time, Robles beamed behind the white mask she wore while accepting the bronze and a small bouquet of flowers. As a safety precaution this year, instead of having the bronze medal put around her neck by an Olympic official, the medal was put on a tray which was extended to Robles, who grabbed it and put it on.

She lifted a total of 282 kgs which is the combination of the best single lift in each of the two disciplines of weightlifting. She had a snatch of 128 kgs, and a clean and jerk of 154 kgs. Her 128 kg snatch tied the all-time American record set by Cheryl Haworth in 2003

Standout Moments

There were plenty of standout moments from the lifting podium at Tokyo 2020. Fares Elbakh won Qatar’s first Olympic gold medal in weightlifting, in the men’s 96 kg. The 23-year shattered two Games records in the clean and jerk (225 kgs) and total lift (402 kgs).

Indonesia’s Rahmat Erwin Abdullah earned a rare bronze from the B competition of the men’s 73 kg class. Usually, lifters in the B session lift lower weight entries, but his 342 kgs matched the Olympic record and was ranked third best overall.

Tokyo also marked the last Games for four-time Olympian Valentina Perez, as she announced her retirement from the sport. The 36-year-old Spanish legend sealed gold at London 2012, after silver at Beijing 2008, and added bronze at Rio 2016.

Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand became the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympic Games in a different gender category from the one they were assigned at birth.

Teenager Windy Cantika Aisah took the bronze for Indonesia after smashing her personal best twice in the clean and jerk. The 19-year hoisted 110 kgs with her third attempt and screamed with delight as she secured a medal. Earlier in Group B of the 49 kg competition, Papua New Guinea’s Loa Dika Toua made history as the first female to compete in five Olympic weightlifting competitions, just a few hours after carrying her nation’s flag at the Tokyo 2020.

It was a remarkable achievement by the 37-year to appear on Olympic stage after 21 years of becoming the first female ever to lift at an Olympic Games, when women’s weightlifting was first introduced at Sydney 2000.

Medal winners in Weightlifting at Tokyo 2020

Men’s 61 kg: Gold - Li Fabin (CHN); Silver - Irawan Eko Yuli (INA); Bronze - Son Igor (KAZ).

Men’s 67 kg: Gold - Chen Lijun (CHN); Silver - Luis Javier Mosquera (COL); Bronze: Mirko Zanni (ITA).

Men’s 73 kg: Gold - Shi Zhiyong (CHN); Silver - Julio Ruben Mayora (VEN); Bronze - Rahmat Abdullah (INA).

Men’s 81 kg: Gold - Lyu Xiaojun (CHN); Silver - Zacarias Bonnat (DOM); Bronze - Antonino Pizzolato (ITA).

Men’s 96 kg: Gold - Fares Ibrahim Elbakh (QAT); Silver - Keydomar Vallenilla (VEN); Bronze - Anton Plyesnoy (GEO).

Men’s 109 kg: Gold - Akbar Djuraev (UZB); Silver - Simon Martirosyan (ARM); Bronze - Arturs Plesnieks (LAT).

Men’s +109 kg: Gold - Lasha Talakhadze (GEO); Silver - Ali Davoudi (IRI); Bronze - Man Asaad (SYR).

Women’s 49 kg: Gold: Hou Zhihui (CHN); Silver: Mirabai Chanu Saikhom (IND); Bronze: Aisah Windy Cantika (INA).

Women’s 55 kg: Gold - Hidilyn Diaz (PHI); Silver - Liao Qiuyun (CHN); Bronze - Zulfiya Chinshanlo (KAZ).

Women’s 59 kg: Gold - Kuo Hsing-Chun (TPE); Silver - Polina Guryeva (TKM); Bronze - Ando Mikiko (JPN).

Women’s 64 kg: Gold - Maude Charron (CAN); Silver - Giorgia Bordignon (ITA); Bronze - Chen Wen-Huei (TPE).

Women’s 76 kg: Gold - Neisi Dajomes (ECU); Silver - Kate Nye (USA); Bronze - Aremi Fuentes (MEX).

Women’s 87 kg: Gold - Wang Zhouyu (CHN); Silver - Tamara Salazar (ECU); Bronze - Crismery Santana (DOM).

Women’s +87 kg: Gold - Li Wenwen (CHN); Silver - Emily Jade Campbell (GBR); Bronze - Sarah Robles (USA).


(The author is the winner of Presidential Awards for Sports and recipient of multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. He can be reached at [email protected])

Shi Zhiyong of China who won Men’s 73 kg with a world record