China dominates proceedings

THE giant strides made by China in weightlifting in recent years were once again evident in Warsaw, Poland, as the Asian superpower led the sweepstakes in the 72nd World championship for men and the 15th championship for women. The Chinese surge was also marked by several commendable performances even as the meet had its own share of surprises.

Wu Meijin of China lifts 127.5 kg in the snatch section in the men's 56kg category at the weightlifting world championships in Warsaw. Wu made a clean sweep of all the three titles at stake in this weight category.

Given the fact that the Athens Olympics is now just two years away, the week-long event undoubtedly had a great deal of importance attached to it, particularly as the leading nations of the sport seriously took the opportunity to expose their up and coming lifters to some real and tough competition. It was indeed a battle for the fittest and reputations did take a severe beating once the competitions gained momentum.

But the action in the men's section, overall, was a bit of a disappointment as only one new world benchmark was found all through the championship. Along the way, the absence of at least one lifter was also felt. That of the peerless Halil Mutlu, the Turkish world record holder of the men's 56kg category who had to skip the meet due to a leg injury. And this meant an easy gold for China's Wu Meijin who made a clean sweep of all the three titles at stake in this weight category. The 22-year-old, who had topped the field in the Busan Asian Games with record lifts in snatch, clean and jerk and total, led in all three here even though he fell short to achieve his career-best total of 292.5 kg, by a good five kg.

In the absence of Mutlu, the two Chinese-Taipei lifters in the fray, Yang Chin Yi and Wang Shin Yuan, seemed to cherish great hopes of winning the title. However, they failed to live up to expectations. In fact, Yang was even on the verge of elimination in both the snatch and clean and jerk and was able to clear his opening weight only in his third lift. In contrast, Wu Meijin faced no such problems before racing to victory with a card of 127.5 kg in snatch and 160 kg in clean and jerk. True, he is a great talent and has a great future, but the Chinese youngster is still far away from Mutlu, the only lifter who totalled 300 kg in this weight category at last year's championship.

The 62 kg class produced a surprise as Im Young-Su of North Korea, a lifter with no significant past in the sport, scooped the clean and jerk and total golds from a field which consisted favourite Su Feixiang of China and five times world champion and two times Olympic silver-medallist Leonidas Sabanis of Greece. Feixiang was unable to finish any of his three attempts in both snatch and clean and jerk while Sabanis could finish only with a silver from snatch, being hindered by an injury during the second part of the competition.

The second Chinese entrant, Le Maosheng, took the snatch gold on account of his lighter body weight after he, along with Sabanis and the North Korean, had finished with an identical total of 140 kg. Thereafter, Le failed in his second and third attempts in clean and jerk (175 kg) after clearing 170 kg in his initial trial. This gave Im the gold and also in total (315 kg) as he came up with a good lift of 175 kg in his second attempt. Stefan Georgiev of Bulgaria who had cleared 137.5 kg in snatch to take the silver in clean and jerk (172.5 kg) was tied with Le in total (310 kg) but was forced to settle for the bronze on body weight.

Another big surprise was in store for the fans as Zhang Guozheng and Chen Chufu monopolised the 69 kg competition, which also saw Bulgarian Galabin Boevski lose his invincibility after a long streak of victories since 1999. The 28-year-old world record holder could only finish a poor sixth in snatch (won by Chen Chufu) and then had a bad outing in clean and jerk as he limped out of the competition, disgusted. Zhang, the world university champion, made good of the opening and took the clean and jerk title and the total gold as he outjerked his compatriot by five kg.

The new champion who had trailed Chen (157.5 kg) in snatch by 2.5 kg ensured the total gold as he jerked 192.5 kg compared to the 187.5 kg lifted by his compatriot. Youssef Sbai won two bronze medals for Tunisia (in snatch and total) to give his nation the first ever medals from the World championships, while Mohammed Tantawy of Egypt who took the clean and jerk bronze ensured the end of a long medal drought suffered by his country.

The medal winners of the men's 62 kg event (from left), Le Maosheng of China (silver), Im Yong Su of North Korea, the winner, and Stefan Georgiev of Bulgaria (bronze), on the podium.

In what was an unprecedented occurrence in this championship, the three golds in the 77 kg went to three different contestants. The snatch was won by Li Hongli (China) only to continue weakly in the clean and jerk and thereby missing the podium altogether thereafter. The best in clean and jerk came from Oleg Perepetchenov of Russia who had a chance to win the total gold as well, but for an unsuccessful effort of 207.5 kg in his third attempt.

The failure by the Russian to lift that weight proved handy for Georgi Markov of Bulgaria who took the most valuable gold, that of the total, with 170 kg in snatch and 200 kg in the clean and jerk. Hongli had a best of 172.5 kg while Perepetchenov had a leading lift of 202.5 kg in the clean and jerk. The prominent loser here was world record holder Plamen Zheyazkov who got eliminated in the snatch and had only one good lift in clean and jerk.

The 85 kg class saw a spectacular and unique duel between five-time world champion Zlatan Vanev of Bulgaria and title defender George Asanidze of Georgia. The Georgian, with a winning lift of 177.5 kg in snatch had a 10kg advantage over the Bulgarian at the end of the first stage of the competition. Vanev, returning to competition after a long break, was placed eighth in snatch but staged a remarkable comeback in clean and jerk. He worked off that 10 kg disadvantage as Asanidze could jerk only 207.5 kg compared to his rival's best of 217.5 kg. Both were, thus, tied on 385 kg but a lighter body weight decided the total gold in favour of the 29-year-old Bulgarian.

The 94 kg category also saw the fall of another reigning champion as favourite Koroush Bagheri got eliminated in the snatch. The Iranian came back to gain the bronze in clean and jerk but this had little consequence in the end as Azerbaijan's Nizami Pashaev, a former world junior champion, made good of the opportunity and lifted his way to the clean and jerk and total golds. Oliver Caruso of Germany won the snatch in this class.

Iran's poor streak continued in the 105 kg as well where the Olympic champion Hossein Tavakoli was unlucky not to get even a single medal. Like in the 77 kg category, this class also saw the three golds going to three different lifters: Vladimir Smortchkov of Russia in snatch, Alan Tsagaev of Bulgaria in clean and jerk and Denys Gotfrid of Ukraine, the 1999 world champion, in total. The Ukrainian's cause was helped by two misses out of the six attempts and the double failure of Tsagaev at hoisting 237.5 kg in the clean and jerk. Gotfrid's winning total of 420 kg (2.5 kg more than Tsagaev) came from his lifts of 190 kg in snatch and 230 kg in clean and jerk.

But for all the ill-luck suffered by its champion lifters in the 94 kg and 105 kg categories, Iran was finally rewarded when Hossein Rezazadeh enjoyed a sweeping success in the over 105 kg class for a second consecutive time. En route, the 24-year-old Olympic champion also eliminated the unshaken world standard of four years in the clean and jerk (263 kg) and also equalled his own total record from Sydney of 472.5 with five impeccable lifts. His dominance over the event was further underlined by the gap of 22.5 kg, which separated the Iranian from the second-placed Damjan Damyanov of Bulgaria.

The competitions in the women's section, in contrast to the men's division, saw a plethora of new world records being established. In all 15 new world records were broken out of which six were by Wang Mingjuan of China. Wang followed up her successful debut in the world junior championship in May this year, with yet another sterling show in the 48kg category. In May, the 17-year-old was the first lifter from her category to surpass the 200 kg limit and in Warsaw she further improved upon that mark to 207.5 kg as she defeated surprise silver-medallist Taylan Nurcan by a good 15 kg.

China's Zhang Gouzheng totalled 347.5 kg for the gold in the men's 69 kg category.

This despite the fact that the Turkish lifter herself had shown an improvement of 17.5 kg in total than what she had achieved in the European championships a few weeks earlier. In snatch, the Chinese prodigy had a best of 92.5 kg and in clean and jerk 115.5 kg. Taylan had good lifts of 87.5 kg in snatch and 105 kg in clean and jerk. The bronze medals in snatch, jerk and total were all taken by Rifatova Dragneva of Bulgaria, who now has a total of 20 medals from nine World championships.

Having come down from the 58 kg class to the 53 kg category this year, Ri Song-Hui surprised the Chinese once again in less than two months. The tragic heroine of Sydney had stunned the Chinese in the Busan Asian Games in September-October with a magnificent sequence. Here again she proved a bugbear to her famed rivals as she took all the three golds up for grabs in this section with two new world records in jerk and a world record equalling effort in total.

Pushed hard by the Chinese newcomer Li Xuejiu, the 24-year-old North Korean lifter did what was expected of her much to the glee of her supporters. Hui had efforts of 97.5 kg in snatch, 127.5 kg in jerk for a total of 225 kg. Li won the silver with 222.5 kg ahead of Udomporn Polsak of Thailand (215 kg). Amid this Asian sweep there were at least three casualties: title defender Alexander Escobar (Ecuador), Olympic champion Tara Nott (France) and world champion in jerk, Donka Mincheva of Bulgaria. While Escobar dropped out of jerk after an initial attempt of 82.5 kg, Mincheva and Nott could only finish fifth and seventh overall.

Song Zhijuan, on her arrival in Warsaw, was one of the very few Chinese lifters who had participated in the World championships but never had won a gold medal. This time, however, she made up for this shortage to take all three golds in the 58 kg category beating back the challenge of Wandee Kameaim of Thailand. Song led the field in snatch with 105 kg, in jerk with 125 kg to have a total of 230 kg, 17.5 kg more than what was achieved by her Thai rival. Olympic champion Soraya Jimenez (Mexico) lagged behind in the ninth place while Bulgarian Nely Simova, in her 12th straight World championships, was unable to win a medal of any hue this time.

Wang Mingjuan of China lifts 115.5 kg in the clean and jerk competition, setting a new world record in the women's 48 kg category. Wang also broke the world record in the snatch discipline with a 95.5 kg effort. She had six world records in all.

Liu Xia continued with China's dominance winning the snatch and total golds in the 63 kg class. However, Liu lost her world record in the clean and jerk to Anastasia Tsakiri of Greece. Despite this, the advantage that she had from the first half of the competition gave the Chinese lifter the gold in total. Liu had won the snatch gold with a lift of 107.5 kg and her second place in jerk (with 135 kg behind the Greek's record-breaking effort of 136 kg) gave the Chinese lifter a winning total of 242.5 kg.

The 69 kg category produced the 100th woman world champion, a big surprise as Pawina Thongsuk of Thailand captured the jerk and total golds at the expense of reigning champion and snatch winner Valentina Popova of Russia and Liu Chunhong of China, holder of all the senior and junior world records. The 23-year-old Thai lifter was second behind Popova in the snatch but made amends with a superior attempt in the jerk as Popova failed in her initial two attempts before clearing her opening weight of 142.5 kg in her third trial. Thongsuk who had lifted 112.5 (compared to 115 kg achieved by the Russian) had a best of 147.5 kg in the jerk and this gave her the gold in total with 260 kg. Liu suffered for her failure to clear her three attempts in snatch and her only consolation was the silver that she achieved in jerk.

Svetlana Khabirova of Russia restored pride for Europe as she put an end to the Asian domination by winning all the three 75 kg titles with ease. Having captured as many as six junior world titles over the years, this was the first success among the seniors for this 24-year-old who was making her debut in the 75 kg category, moving up from her original 69 kg class. Defending champion Albina Khomitch was another Russian to impress as she went on to win the snatch gold in the over 75 kg category. But the cheers were reserved for local favourite Agata Wrobel, who came from behind to clinch the jerk and total golds with an inspired show. It was the fulfillment of a dream for the Pole and that it came in front of her home crowd added to the satisfaction of the 21-year-old lifter.

The results:

Men: 56kg: Snatch: 1. Wu Meijin (Chn), 127.5, 2. Yang Chin-Yi (Tpe), 125.0, 3. Adrian Jigau (Rom), 125.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Wu Meijin, 160.0, 2. Wang Shin-Yuan (Tpe), 152.5, 3. Yang Chin-Yi, 152.5. Total: 1. Wu Meijin, 287.5, 2. Yang Chin-Yi, 277.5, 3. Adrian Jiagu, 277.5.

62 kg: Snatch: 1. Le Maosheng (Chn), 140.0, 2. Leonidas Sabanis (Gre), 140.0, 3. Im Yong-Su (Prk), 140.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Im Yong-Su, 175.0, 2. Stefan Georgiev (Bul), 172.5, 3. Le Maosheng, 170.0. Total: 1. Im Yong-Su, 315.0, 2. Le Maosheng, 310.0, 3. Stefan Georgiev, 310.0.

69 kg: Snatch: 1. Chen Chufu (Chn), 157.5, 2. Zhang Gouzheng (Chn), 155.0, 3. Youssef Sbai (Tun), 152.5. Clean & Jerk: 1. Zhang Gouzheng, 192.5, 2. Chen Chufu, 187.5, 3. Mohamed Tantawy (Egy), 187.5. Total: 1. Zhang Gouzheng, 347.5, 2. Chen Chufu, 345.0, 3. Youssef Sbai, 335.0.

77 kg: Snatch: 1. Li Hongli (Chn), 172.5, 2. Georgi Markov (Bul), 170.0, 3. Hossein Barkhah (Iri), 165.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Oleg Perepetchenov (Rus), 202.5, 2. Reyhan Arabacioglu (Tur), 200.0, 3. Georgi Markov, 200.0. Total: 1. Georgi Markov, 370.0, 2. Oleg Perepetchenov, 367.5, 3. Hossein Barkhah, 365.0.

85 kg: Snatch: 1. George Asanidze (Geo), 177.5, 2. Ilirjan Suli (Alb), 175.0, 3. Ruslan Novikau (Blr), 172.5. Clean & Jerk: 1. Zlatan Vassilev (Bul), 217.5, 2. Ruslan Novikau, 207.5, 3. Valeriu Calancea (Rom), 207.5. Total: 1. Zlatan Vassilev, 385.0, 2. George Asanidze, 385.0, 3. Ruslan Novikau, 380.0.

North Korea's Ri Song Hui (middle), who won the women's 53kg gold, is flanked by silver medallist Li Xuejiu of China (left) and the bronze medal winner, Udomporn Polsak of Thailand.

94 kg: Snatch: 1. Oliver Caruso (Ger), 180.0, 2. Nizami Pashaev (Aze), 177.5, 3. Milen Dobrev (Bul), 175.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Nizami Pashaev, 215.0, 2. Milen Dobrev, 212.5, 3. Kouroush Bagheri (Iri), 210.0. Total: 1. Nizami Pashaev, 392.5, 2. Milen Dobrev, 387.5, 3. Oliver Caruso, 387.5.

105 kg: Snatch: 1. Vladimir Smortchkov (Rus), 197.5, 2. Marcin Dolega (Pol), 192.5, 3. Denys Gotfrid (Ukr), 190.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Alan Tsagaev (Bul), 232.5, 2. Bunyami Sudas (Tur), 230.0, 3. Denys Gotfrid, 230.0. Total: 1. Denys Gotfrid, 420.0, 2. Alan Tsagaev, 417.5, 3. Vladimir Smortchkov, 417.5.

+105 kg: Snatch: 1. Hossein Rezazadeh (Iri), 210.0, 2. Damjan Damyanov (Bul), 205.0, 3. Artem Udachyn (Ukr), 200.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Hossein Rezazadeh, 263.0, 2. Damjan Damyanov, 245.0, 3. Pawel Najdek (Pol), 240.0. Total: 1. Hossein Rezazadeh, 472.5, 2. Damjan Damyanov, 450.0, 3. Artem Udachyn, 440.0.

Women: 48 kg: Snatch: 1. Wang Mingjuan (Chn), 92.5, 2. Nurcan Taylan (Tur), 87.5, 3. Izabela Dragneva (Bul), 82.5. Clean & Jerk: 1. Wang Mingjuan, 115.5, 2. Nurcan Taylan, 105.0, 3. Izabela Dragneva, 100.0. Total: 1. Wang Mingjuan, 207.5, 2. Nurcan Taylan, 192.5, 3. Izabela Dragneva, 182.5.

53kg: Snatch: 1. Ri Song-Hui (Prk), 97.5, 2. Li Xuejiu (Chn), 95.0, 3. Udomporn Polsak (Tha), 95.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Li Xuejiu, 127.5, 2. Ri Song-Hui, 127.5, 3. Udomporn Polsak, 120.0. Total: 1. Ri Song-Hui, 225.0, 2. Li Xuejiu, 222.5, 3. Udomporn Polsak, 215.0.

58 kg: Snatch: 1. Song Zhijuan (Chn), 105.0, 2. Charikia Kastritsi (Gre), 97.5, 3. Emine Bilgin (Tur), 95.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Song Zhijuan, 125.0, 2. Wandee Kameaim (Tha), 120.0, 3. Maryse Turcotte (Can), 117.5. Total: 1. Song Zhijuan, 230.0, 2. Wandee Kameaim, 212.5, 3. Charikia Kastritsi, 210.0.

63 kg: Snatch: 1. Liu Xia (Chn), 107.5, 2. Anastasia Tsakiri (Gre), 105.0, 3. Gergana Kirilova (Bul), 102.5. Clean & Jerk: 1. Anastasia Tsakiri, 136.0, 2. Liu Xia, 135.0, 3. Gergana Kirilova, 122.5. Total: 1. Liu Xia, 242.5, 2. Anastasia Tsakiri, 240.0, 3. Gergana Kirilova, 225.0.

69 kg: Snatch: 1. Valentina Popova (Rus), 115.0, 2. Pawina Thongsuk (Tha), 112.5, 3. Nahla Mohamed (Egy), 110.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Pawina Thongsuk, 147.5, 2. Liu Chunhong (Chn), 147.5, 3. Valentina Popova, 142.5. Total: 1. Pawina Thongsuk, 260.0, 2. Valentina Popova, 257.5, 3. Nahla Mohamed, 245.0.

75 kg: Snatch: 1. Svetlana Khabirova (Rus), 117.5, 2. Sun Ruiping (Chn), 115.0, 3. Lioudmila Arefieva (Rus), 112.5. Clean & Jerk: 1. Svetlana Khabirova, 145.0, 2. Sun Ruiping, 145.0, 3. Christina Ioannidi (Gre), 132.5. Total: 1. Svetlana Khabirova, 262.5, 2. Sun Ruiping, 260.0, 3. Lioudmila Arefieva, 237.5.

+75 kg: Snatch: 1. Albina Khomitch (Rus), 132.5, 2. Agata Wrobel (Pol), 125.0, 3. Cheryl Haworth (U.S.), 125.0. Clean & Jerk: 1. Agata Wrobel, 162.5, 2. Tang Gonghong (Chn), 160.0, 3. Cheryl Haworth, 152.5. Total: 1. Agata Wrobel, 287.5, 2. Albina Khomitch, 282.5, 3. Tang Gonghong, 277.5.