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Havana, Day 4: Irawan hits career high at 33 and has record-breaking fifth Olympic medal in his sights

Eko Yuli Irawan posted the best numbers of his career at the age of 33 here in Havana, and is on course to set a weightlifting record for the ages.

In more than 120 years since the sport featured at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 no weightlifter has ever won five medals at the Games.

“I’m hoping to be the first to do it,” Irawan said after moving up in weight to win at 67kg here in the IWF Grand Prix, the third qualifier for Paris 2024.

Eko Irawan (INA)

On a day of contrasts for Indonesia, Irawan’s team-mate Rizki Juniansyah later suffered a surprise defeat at 73kg when he failed with all three clean and jerk attempts.

Ryan Grimsland of the United States won, ahead of Muhammed Ozbek from Turkey and Andrei Fralou, the Belarusian competing as an Individual Neutral Athlete.

Irawan declined his final attempt after making five good lifts for 145-176-321, finishing well ahead of the Colombian 67kg world champion Francisco Mosquera, who made 136-175-311.

Sergio Massidda from Italy, who like Irawan had moved up from 61kg, was third on 135-165-300.

Sergio Massidda (ITA)

“Things change when you are over 30 – recovery, nutrition, sleep – but I’m feeling good and mentally I am prepared,” Irawan said.

“Yes, I am up from 61 to 67 but this is my best snatch, clean and jerk and total.”

Irawan has had his share of injuries over the years, he said, pointing to his knees, shin, calf and ankle. “My knees are in recovery even now,” he said, “but I’m feeling good.”

When he won bronze at London 2012, Irawan discovered afterwards that he had a stress fracture of the shin, having exacerbated a minor problem with “too much lifting”.

Eko Irawan (INA)

He will eventually go back down to 61kg, where he sits second in the rankings, after returning to the national training centre in Jakarta. This was only his second competition at 67kg in a career that began in May 2006.

Irawan started in the sport aged 11, at which time he was herding goats in Lampung province where he grew up.

His career highlight, he said, was not a single moment but being at the Olympic Games four times and winning a medal on each occasion – bronze in Beijing and London, and silver in Rio and Tokyo at weights ranging from 56kg to 62kg.

Four different men won gold in those contests, from Colombia, North Korea and China twice, and one of those two from China, the Tokyo champion Li Fabin, tops the Paris rankings at 61kg.

“Maybe I can beat China next time and finish with gold,” Irawan said.

He has two young children and said he did not know if they might take up weightlifting, but he is sure of his own future when his career on the platform ends.

“I’m going to be a coach,” he said.

In the 73kg, the Tokyo 67kg silver medallist Luis Javier Mosquera began his qualifying effort for Paris by weighing in and withdrawing in the B Group.

Mosquera, from Colombia, suffered a serious wrist injury at the Bolivarian Games a year ago. He is one of four Tokyo Olympic medallists trying to qualify for Paris who are in the programme but have yet to make a lift.

The other three – Antonino Pizzolato from Italy, Polina Guryeva from Turkmenistan and Aremi Fuentes from Mexico – are all entered here but how many of them compete rather than “participate” by weighing in and complying with anti-doping requirements remains to be seen.

Guryeva took a break to have a child and the others have had serious injuries. All four have plenty of time yet to regain full fitness during the qualifying period, in which only the single best total from a minimum of five “participations” counts in the rankings.

One of the big names in the A Group, the Italian Mirko Zanni, also withdrew without lifting.

Juniansyah, who holds all three junior world records at 73kg, missed an attempt to better his own junior world record in the snatch on 158kg. He led by 5kg going into the clean and jerk but could not make a lift and finished without a total.

Grimsland, 21, made only one good clean and jerk on 182kg but he thought he had rescued his second attempt when he ended up facing sideways with 188kg above his head.

Ryan Grimsland (USA)

The referees said yes but the jury said no because he did not have the bar under control. “It was there, I had it,” Grimsland said ruefully.

He matched his career best total on 145-182-327 and will move up four places in the rankings to 14th.

Ozbek also failed with two clean and jerks, finishing 144-180-324, which was 7kg lower than his best qualifying total.

Fralou made 141-181-322 to edge Grimsland’s team-mate Caden Cahoy off the podium, and the snatch silver medallist Jair Reyes from Ecuador was fifth.

By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games