Weightlifter Aljumaili bags Iraq’s first gold of the Games

It was Iraq’s first medal of any colour at the 18th Asian Games and was greeted with jubilant scenes at the Jakarta International Expo arena.

Proud moment: Safaa Aljumaili reacts on the podium during his national anthem as he celebrates winning the gold medal in the men’s 85kg weightlifting event.   -  AFP

Safaa Aljumaili stole the weightlifting show on Friday, ripping off his shirt and screaming in wild celebration after a dramatic last-gasp lift secured Iraq’s first gold of the Asian Games.

It was Iraq’s first medal of any colour at the 18th Asiad and was greeted with jubilant scenes at the Jakarta International Expo arena. As Aljumaili roared in delight he was joined by an Iraqi team official who kissed the platform several times in thanks.

Aljumaili had already failed with the 202kg he needed for gold but somehow managed to lock out his arms on the final lift of the 85kg competition to pip South Korea’s brave Jang Yeon-hak by just 1kg.

Jang was left with silver after collapsing on his final 197kg attempt and being stretchered away wearing an oxygen mask. He recovered in time to collect his silver medal. “I hyperventilated,” he told AFP. “I knew Aljumaili had a strong clean and jerk and I knew if I didn’t make it he would probably win.”

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The 2017 Asian Junior Championship gold medallist said he was just glad to be competing after a horror injury three years ago. “It was my own fault. I kicked a barbell and broke my leg,” he revealed. “I thought I would have to give up lifting but my father helped me with rehabilitation. Every day he trained with me.”

‘I couldn’t stop the tears’

North Korea’s Jon Myong Song took the bronze, after watching his team-mates sweep to a national-record fifth weightlifting gold in the women’s 63kg, along with a first ever Asian Games women’s one-two. Little-known Kim Hyo Sim pulled off a shock win, trouncing her namesake compatriot and Rio Olympic silver medallist Choe Hyo Sim by the huge margin of 12kg.

Kim couldn’t hold back the tears on the podium as she received gold and then tried to break into a smile, but thought better of it with the frosty-looking Choe standing crestfallen beside her. “I wanted to smile but I felt sorry for ‘Onni’ (’big sister’),” Kim told AFP.

Her win pushed the secretive nation past its record Asian Games record of four golds achieved in Incheon four years ago. Kim, 24, told AFP she had struggled with a leg injury since her only international win, the Asian Junior Cup in 2013. “I didn’t represent my country for four years because of my injury. I can’t quite believe it,” she said.

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Kim was overwhelmed with emotion at her first senior championships gold as she sang the national anthem draped in the North Korean flag, flanked by the stony-faced Choe. “I couldn’t stop the tears when I thought of (North Korean leader) General Kim Jong Un,” Kim said.

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Wamalun Rattanawan was delighted to take bronze on 225kg, the fifth medal for the consistent Thailand weightlifting team (one silver, four bronze). Wamalun’s was the second bronze for Thailand in the event and the first medal in the 63kg class since Thingsuk Pawina won gold in 2006.

Weightlifting is North Korea’s most successful sport and it came into the Asian Games as heavy favourite to top the medal standings given the absence of powerhouses China and Kazakhstan, suspended for multiple historic doping offences.

It has taken five of the nine golds on offer so far, with six weight classes still up for grabs over the event’s final three days.