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Jinju, Day 4: Weightlifting gold for Japan and a women’s medal for Iran at Asian Championships

Weightlifters from Japan and Mongolia took the medal events on day four of the Asian Championships in Jinju, where an 18-year-old became only the second woman from Iran to win a medal at this level.

For the first time at these Championships a day went by without the playing of the Chinese anthem, although it looked good for China halfway through the men’s 73kg.

Wei Yinting won snatch gold, then dropped away tamely in what became a tense, gripping contest in which the top four finishers all started with the same 186kg in clean and jerk.

Only one of the four, the Thai teenager Weeraphon Wichuma, made his second attempt and with three lifts to come, all three medallists were level on total at 340kg.

Masanori Miyamoto made the decisive lift to finish ahead of Wichuma and Alexey Churkin from Kazakhstan, with the home nation’s Bak Joohyo second behind Wichuma in clean and jerk but fourth on total.

Churkin, 19, failed with his last two attempts at 191kg and Wichuma opted for 192kg to finish, when 195kg would have been enough for victory.

His coaches explained that the contest was so tight they preferred going lower for one gold medal, in clean and jerk, than go all-in for two. It may have been the right call because Wichuma, 18, only just made it at 192kg.

Miyamoto, 26, made personal bests all round and totalled 7kg more than he made when fifth in the first Olympic qualifier in December, the IWF World Championships in Colombia, and 9kg more than his seventh-place finish at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The Japanese champion made 153-191-344, Wichuma finished 150-192-342 and Churkin was 154-186-340, the same total as Bak.

The winning totals by the European and Pan American champions in recent weeks would not have been enough for a place in the top four here, despite the fact that Asia’s three strongest 73kg lifters did not compete.

Rahmat Erwin and Rizki Juniansyah from Indonesia, who remain first and second in the Paris rankings, are going for gold at the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia this weekend – where one of them will move up to 81kg – and China’s Olympic champion and world record holder Shi Zhiyong withdrew after weighing in to give himself more time to reach his best form.

Fourth-placed Bak has featured on the giant screen at the Jinju Arena every day, in a recording of his accomplished performance in the TV talent show I am a Singer.

Bak, 25, said singing could be a career option for him later, “but right now weightlifting is way more important”.

He has been singing since he was a boy, and goes to a singing room (like a karaoke bar, but in a private room rather than a bar) after training.

“I’ve always enjoyed it,” said Bak, whose favourite singer is Beyoncé.

When Anuujin Ganzorig won bronze at 71kg in last year’s Asian Championships it was her first medal in a career that began more than 10 years ago. Today the Mongolian followed up with a first title, claiming the women’s 64kg on 93-118-211.

Medine Amanova from Turkmenistan made six from six for second place on 90-117-207 and teenager Fatemeh Keshavarz became only the second Iranian woman to win a continental medal when she claimed third place on 85-109-194.

Elham Hosseini, who was Iran’s first female continental champion last year, was at the Jinju Arena to cheer on Keshavarz, 18, whose total was a career best by 14kg.

Until 2018 women were not allowed to take part in weightlifting in Iran, and since the nation’s Islamic rulers lifted the ban it has been difficult for them to prosper.

Two members of the national team defected to Germany, others went unpaid, and according to Sajjad Anoushiravani, the Olympic silver medallist who recently took over as president of the Iran Federation “there have been problems in the federation for five years”.

But the sport is growing in popularity among women in Iran and recent national championships had nearly 300 entries across the age range, 110 in the youths 60 juniors and 120 seniors.

Anoushiravani showed how seriously he takes the women’s team by appointing Koroush Bagheri as coach.

Bagheri, a former world champion, was head coach of the men’s team who won three gold medals at London 2012.

“In the national women’s team we have 10 youths, 10 juniors and eight senior good lifters,” said Anoushiravani. “They need more time to develop, and I think after one year we can speak more about our results.”

By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games