News and Media


FIGUEROA MOSQUERA raises bar for Colombia

By Brian Oliver at Riocentro, Rio de Janeiro

Thailand’s women and the tearful Colombian Oscar Figueroa were the heroes
of an emotional, exciting third day of competition at the Riocentro arena.

Figueroa, cheered on by hundreds of noisy fans, won 62kg gold in the
evening ahead of Indonesia’s Eko Yuli Irawan and Kazakhstan’s Farkhad

Irawan, after bronzes at Beijing and London, will return for more at Tokyo
2020, by when Figueroa, 33, is likely to have retired. Irawan, 27, said,
“Silver is an improvement for me, but I know I can do better yet.”

Figueroa, a silver medallist in London, broke down in tears at the finish
and kept crying for five minutes. “It was as if I was lifting for the whole
of Colombia,” he said.

Thailand’s women made it two golds and one silver from three attempts and
will aim for another medal on Tuesday when their fourth and final female
team member competes in the 63kg.

They have been helped by the exclusion of doping cheats from other
countries, but the driving force behind their success is a woman who treats
the weightlifters as her own children and has negotiated lucrative
sponsorship deals to fund a national performance centre and keep them in
full-time training.

After Sopita Tanasan’s victory in the 48kg, the opening contest of the Rio
Games, Thailand followed up with a one-two in the 58kg. Sukanya Srisurat
won from Pimsiri Sirikaew, with Kuo Hsing-Chun of Taipei taking the bronze.

Both medallists attributed Thailand’s success to Boossaba Yodbangtoey, the
president of the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association (Tawa) whose
husband, Intarat, is vice-president of Thailand’s Olympic committee and of
the International Weightlifting Federation.

Thailand has won five gold medals in weightlifting, all by women. They have
five men in Rio but none is expected to challenge for gold. When Boossaba
was asked why there was such a disparity between men and women she said,
“Because the men are like teenagers, on the edge and hard to control. They
want to go out and we have to get security to watch them at our training

“The women are mostly from poor families and they all work hard. I am so
proud of them. Maybe we can win another medal tomorrow.” Siripuch Gulnoi is
their final female competitor, in the 63kg.

Srisurat had tested positive at a youth event just after her 16th birthday
and served a two-year ban. When asked why she had doped she said she had
not made the decision herself, was too young to know what she was taking
and had returned to the sport as a clean athlete “because I never give up”.

Boossaba said, “I have no children of my own so these girls are like my own
children. I would never do anything to harm them. They have all been tested
many times before coming to Rio.”

Boossaba said Srisurat’s doping offence was caused by her club, not the
national association. Srisurat was one of seven Thai teenagers who tested
positive at youth events in 2011. There have been no positives since then.

Tawa is backed by the national electricity authority for 16m bhat (about
$480,000) a year for the four-year Olympic cycle. “We don’t have government
support,” said Boossaba. “The power authority is our main sponsor and we
have other supporters from the private sector.

“I have never been a weightlifter myself – I’m management! We have a very
good training centre in Chiang Mai.”

The state does provide Olympic medallists with big rewards, and Srisurat
will be given about 12million bhat, said Boossaba (about $330,000). “She
will be rich!”

There was a good performance in 11th place behind Srisurat, on 199kg, by
the Marshall Islands’ first weightlifter to compete at the Olympics,
19-year-old Mathlynn Sasser. ‘Mattie’ is one of seven Marshallese children
adopted by Terry Sasser and his wife Amy.

Mattie, who was a good sprinter before she took up weightlifting, carried
the flag at the opening ceremony. “I was so proud of that, and I enjoyed
this experience,” she said. “Now there are some decisions to be made.”

She has dual nationality as Terry holds an American passport as well as
being Marshallese. She may go to the US to further her training. Had she
been competing for the US she would have broken three national junior
records in Rio.

Thailand’s bronze medallist in the men’s 56kg, Sinphet Kruaithong, was
unable to celebrate when he heard that his 84-year-old grandmother had died
of a suspected heart attack while watching him on television.