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Electrician Koanda in tears after becoming Norway’s first female world champion

By Brian Oliver

Solfrid KOANDA (NOR) became Norway’s first ever female world champion when she won a sweep of golds in the women’s 87kg at the IWF World Championships in Bogotá, Colombia.

Koanda suffered such a bad injury in training in August that she thought she might not be fit in time for these Championships. She was in tears on the platform after the medal ceremony as she explained what had happened.

“Not long ago I didn’t even know if I would be able to compete, and now I am standing here with three gold medals – a dream come true,” she said.

“All I’ve been thinking about is my journey since August. It’s been very slow, very hard work, and I am really proud of myself.”

Because of that stress fracture in her wrist, Koanda was training first with a stick, then just a bar until only a few weeks before she competed here.

She was also without her usual support team of Stian Grimseth, president of the Norwegian Federation who had to return home early for back surgery this week, and coach Zygmunt Smalcerz, who did not travel to Colombia.

“I had to slow everything down. It gave me a chance to work on myself as an athlete, mainly in the head, and now I’m full-time as a weightlifter.”  

In 2021, when she ended the year by finishing third at the IWF World Championships, Koanda was working full-time as an electrician, having started her apprenticeship when she first moved out of CrossFit and began weightlifting seriously.

For her big day in Bogotá, Koanda, 24, turned for help to Britain’s Dave Sawyer, who joined the team to help her in the back room.

“For a World Championship you have to be tactical and make smart choices, so Dave was perfect today. Without him I think I would have been a little bit lost.”

Koanda is a friend of Emily Campbell, Britain’s Olympic silver medallist who trains at Sawyer’s gym. She spent some time there in preparation for Colombia and asked Sawyer to help here “because I trust him”.

Grimseth, whose surgery was successful, said after watching from Norway, “This is incredible. Solfrid has been training Olympic lifts with a stick and a bar from early September almost until mid-November. She increased slowly to start with, then more and more in the two last weeks.

“She has done a lot of other training, and I see a big progress coming for the Europeans.”

The European Championships are in Armenia in May, by when Koanda will have dropped down to the Olympic weight category of 81kg.

Koanda’s only serious challenger for gold was Eileen CIKAMATANA (AUS), but she failed with four of her six attempts. Koanda finished 113-147-260, all career bests, and Cikamatana made 109-140-249, taking bronze in the two lifts and silver on total.

In third place was Tursunoy JABBOROVA (UZB), who was second in the snatch. The clean and jerk silver was won by Ankha MUNKHJANTSAN (MGL), who missed all three snatches and was one of five athletes who failed to make a total.

Koanda will face strong opposition in the 81kg class. Three hours before her victory, two Olympic champions and a silver medallist from Tokyo lined up for the 81kg and all of them were beaten by LIANG Xiaomei (CHN) in her first senior competition.

None of those Olympic medallists – 87kg champion WANG Zhouyou (CHN) and runner-up Tamara SALAZAR (ECU), and 76kg winner Neisi DAJOMES (ECU) – even made the podium in the snatch.

Two Ukrainians, the only Europeans among the 11 athletes, won gold and silver in the snatch – Iryna DEKHA (UKR), who bombed out in Tokyo, on 122kg and Alina MARUSCHAK (UKR) on 119kg, with Liang third on 118kg.

The Ukrainians dropped away to finish fourth and sixth on total when they both failed twice at 142kg in the clean and jerk.

Dajomes missed two of her clean and jerks to finish fifth, while Salazar moved up from sixth to third place on 114-148-262, taking the clean and jerk bronze behind Liang and Wang.

Wang went from fifth to second by making all her clean and jerks. Her 115-151-266 was 4kg down on her Tokyo total. Liang was clear on 118-152-270 and even had a try at a clean and jerk world record, failing with her last attempt at 159kg.