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Pizzolato can help Italy bounce back at European Championships

Italy had a desperate time at weightlifting’s first qualifier for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games but they can do far better in their second attempt.

Antonino Pizzolato, one of five current world record holders from Europe and one of three Italian medallists at the Tokyo Olympic Games, returns from injury to lift at the eagerly awaited European Championships in Armenia starting on Saturday.

At nearly 1,000m above sea level, host city Yerevan is Europe’s second highest capital.

Altitude sickness will not be a problem at the Karen Demirchyan Complex, though, as it was when three Italians bombed out along with many others in the first Olympic qualifier in Colombia four months ago.

At the 2022 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships, held 2,600m above sea level in Bogotá, Pizzolato was an absentee and the Tokyo medallist Mirko Zanni, Youth Olympic Games champion Cristiano Ficco and European silver medallist Lucrezia Magistris all failed to make a total.

None of their four team-mates made the podium and the entire team of seven made only 12 good lifts between them.

But Italy were far from alone in suffering in a competition that featured more no-lifts than good lifts.

Having won more medals than any other European nation in Tokyo, improving Italy can follow up with their best European Championships performance in decades.

After his three snatch failures in Colombia, Zanni said it was “a source of pride for me” to recover well from a disappointing performance.

“You can only improve what is to come, not what has already been done,” he said.

“Despair makes no sense and you always have to move forward and improve.”

Zanni is a very strong contender at 73kg and by the time he lifts on Tuesday Italy may already have been on top of the podium.

Over the weekend Sergio Massidda, fourth in Colombia despite making only two good lifts, looks strongest at 61kg and in the women’s 49kg Giulia Imperio attempts to add to the junior and senior titles she won last year.

Lucrezia Magistris and Giulia Miserendino have chances at 59kg and 71kg respectively, while Oscar Reyes at 81kg and Ficco at 96kg are also capable of winning medals.

Pizzolato versus Karlos Nasar at 89kg could be one of the highlights of the week but as both men need a total to figure in the Olympic rankings it might not match last year’s epic contest in Albania, when the Italian set a world record on total of 392kg.

Nasar, from Bulgaria, holds the clean and jerk world record at 81kg and 89kg but he also bombed out in Colombia and needs to snatch well.

This is Bulgaria’s first competition since a change of leadership at its federation. New president Arif Majed and his board have voted to appoint a temporary coaching team led by the long-time but apparently outgoing head coach Ivan Ivanov.

Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and hosts Armenia – all of whom won World Championships medals – have entered formidable teams, and Romania has a very strong line-up in the women’s events.

Armenia will have high hopes in all the heavier men’s events and there will be plenty for home fans to cheer later next week.

The other three European world record holders besides Pizzolato and Nasar are Lasha Talakhadze from Georgia, Simon Martirosyan from Armenia and Loredana Toma from Romania, the only non-Asian with a current women’s world record after she set a new 71kg snatch mark of 119kg in Colombia.

Talakhadze against Varazdat Lalyan, the outstanding 23-year-old Armenian, and his team-mate Martirosyan in the super-heavyweights should be a fitting finale to the Championships on April 23.

Britain’s Emily Campbell, an Olympic silver medallist, is clear favourite in the women’s super-heavyweights.

One of the most competitive sessions could be the men’s 102kg, a class in which Europe did well in the World Championships by having five finishers in the top 10.

Nobody has made 400kg in qualifying yet but two young Armenians, Samvel Gasparyan and Garik Karapetyan, made early entry totals of 400kg before Gasparyan moved up to 109kg in search of more gold for the hosts.

In what should still be a high-quality session Karapetyan lines up against the reigning champion David Fischerov from Bulgaria, Marcos Ruiz from Spain, Arturs Plesnieks from Latvia, Vasil Marinov from Bulgaria, Tudor Bratu from Moldova and Giorgi Chkheidze from Georgia, among others.

All of this comes with a caveat, which will be the case throughout the entire qualifying period: it all depends on individual athletes actually competing rather than merely meeting their anti-doping requirements, weighing in and waving to the crowd without attempting a lift.

The single best total in a minimum of five “participations” will count in qualifying for Paris, so anybody not feeling 100 per cent need not risk lifting, as was the case in Bogotá when Olympic champion Shi Zhiyong and Tian Tao from China sat it out.

Chinese Taipei was among nine other nations whose athletes did not lift after weighing in at the World Championships, and in the Pan American Championships in Argentina last month the Canadian Olympian Boady Santavy weighed in without lifting.

By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games