Havana, Day 5: US weightlifters battle in Paris rankings while former team-mate Sasser shines
While two Americans tried to improve their Olympic qualifying prospects on day five of the IWF Grand Prix here in Havana, their former team-mate Mattie Sasser made huge strides towards a place at Paris 2024.
Sasser, who lifted for the Marshall Islands at Rio 2016, switched nationality to win medals for the US and has now changed back again, lifted in the 59kg B Group and put herself in a great position for Paris by making 94-120-214.
In her first competition at the new Olympic weight of 59kg, having always lifted heavier, that earned Sasser fourth place on total in a competition won by Janeth Gomez from Mexico on 98-125-223. Gomez made a big move in the rankings, improving her best total by 9kg to go sixth.
A few kilos more would put Sasser into the all-important top 10, while she also has a good chance of earning a continental qualification for Oceania or even a tripartite invitation, as Marshall Islands is on the list of eligible nations.
Of the US pair, Taylor Wilkins fared better than Danielle Gunnin, who bombed out in the snatch and made one clean and jerk of 118kg.
Taylor Wilkins (USA)
Wilkins could have won if she had made her final attempt at 127kg. She failed but moved up the rankings to seventh place ahead of Gunnin after finishing on 97-124-221.
Third place went to Alina Shchapanava, competing as an Individual Neutral Athlete, on 95-120-215.
Olympic champion Kuo Hsing-Chun withdrew after weighing in, as did the Tunisian Ghofrane Belkhir.
Lucrezia Magistris from Italy left the platform in tears after failing to make a total for the second time in qualifying.
Magistris made her first lift at 100kg, which was enough for snatch gold, then missed five in a row. She withdrew without lifting at the European Championships and has yet to register a total in the rankings.
Sasser, who married an American and lives in Kansas City, was brought up on Mili Atoll, where the population is a few hundred. She moved to the Marshall Islands capital, Majuro, aged 14.
Mathlynn Sasser (MHL)
“The population has gone down since I left – life is hard there,” said Sasser, who has not visited the Marshall Islands for five years. Her parents still live there and she is planning to go next year.
In 2018 she switched to the United States, in 2019 she made a career-best total of 232kg to win 64kg silver at the Pan American Games, and then things did not go so well.
“I got injured and couldn’t go to Tokyo with the US because I had to have knee surgery.
“There were things going on, a lot of politics, and I knew I would have a better chance of qualifying for Paris with Marshall Islands so I changed back last year.”
Sasser usually trains in her garage but for this first competition for her homeland since switching back she trained in Samoa.
Helped here by husband Chauncey Miller and coach Casey Knuth, Sasser, 26, performed well and looked capable of more.
Mattie Sasser with husband Chauncey Miller (left) and coach Casey Knuth (right)
There is a fluid relationship between the US and the Marshall Islands, whose currency is the US dollar, under a “Compact of Free Association” agreed in the 1980s, about 40 years after the US took control of the five islands halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games