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Havana, Day 9: Norway’s Koanda overcomes cramp to win a classic and take third place in Paris rankings

Gold and silver medallists from the Tokyo Olympic Games and a world champion provided the best spectacle of the IWF Grand Prix here on the ninth day of competition.

All three – Solfrid Koanda from Norway, and the Ecuadorians Neisi Dajomes and Tamara Salazar – made totals of 260kg or more, which has never happened before at the Olympic weight category of 81kg.

World champion Koanda came out on top in dramatic style, making her final attempt at 150kg to edge ahead of Salazar before collapsing with cramp in her left thigh.

“I knew it would happen. Making the lift felt easy enough but it was always in my head that the cramp would come, so it was mentally very hard,” said Koanda.

Solfrid Koanda (NOR)

“It kept happening in the warm-ups and was so bad I was nearly forced to pull out.

“I couldn’t make warm-ups at my usual weights, it was getting desperate but I told myself ‘You’re not cutting down to 81 and coming all the way to Cuba to pull out.’

“I went out and made the 150. It was a very good session.”

Koanda had made all her previous international appearances at 87kg, winning two European titles and the world title in the last three of them.

Whether her weight-loss regime had caused the cramps, Koanda was unable to say.

“This was the first time I’ve had to cut weight, and you have to have a lot of discipline to do it. It wasn’t too bad until last week when I woke up dreaming of a doughnut.”

What would she be eating for her celebratory meal?

“It’s funny, but I’m not hungry,” she said.

Koanda, who made 116-150-266, came desperately close to being timed out as she made her second snatch. The clock was showing 00:00 as she began her lift but the jury did not intervene.

Salazar made 116-149-265, which was 2kg more than she made in taking silver at 87kg in Tokyo. Her final clean and jerk had put her 5kg clear of Koanda.

Dajomes, champion at 76kg in Tokyo and moving in the other direction in the weights, made 118-142-260. The medallists here, who all made four from six in a gripping contest, will be respectively third, fourth and fifth in the Paris 2024 long list.

The American Mattie Rogers improved her best qualifying total by 1kg on 110-138-248 and Canada’s Rosalie Dumas made a career best by some distance on 108-125-233 to move into 21st place.

There was quality in the men’s 102kg too, where Yauheni Tsikhantsou made a winning return as an Individual Neutral Athlete with a final clean and jerk of 212kg to edge out Wes Kitts of the United States.

Wes Kitts (USA)

Tsikhantsou was a world champion at 20 for Belarus when he last competed at this weight in 2019, and had not lifted since the delayed Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, where he failed to make a total because of injury.

He made 178-212-390, good enough for sixth place in the Paris rankings, to finish ahead of Kitts on 177-211-388 – a very impressive 9kg improvement on his best qualifying total.

Yauheni Tsikhantsou (AIN)

Chen Po-Jen of Chinese Taipei was third on 173-208-381.

Rasoul Motamedi from Iran, who underwent elbow surgery last November, joined the qualifying pathway by weighing in for the B Group but he did not lift. The withdrawals from the A Group were Lesman Paredes from Bahrain, the 96kg world champion, the American Ryan Sester and the Colombians Jhor Moreno and Jhonatan Rivas.

By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games