Havana GP verdict: Stars from three continents, and AIN, light up Cuba’s first global event in 50 years
A world record for Angie Palacios of Ecuador, a winning start at a new weight for Solfrid Koanda of Norway and a career-best for the remarkable Indonesian Eko Yuli Irawan were among the individual highlights of the IWF Grand Prix that ended in Havana on Sunday.
As for the teams, Indonesia, the United States and Ecuador all excelled, while the one dressed entirely in grey also had a successful championships.
The weightlifting team of Individual Neutral Athletes (AIN), including the lifters with Belarussian passport, had four winners. Three AIN lifters moved straight into the top 10 of the Paris rankings, Petr Asayonak and Yauheni Tsikhantsou at 89kg and 102kg respectively, and Siuzanna Valodzka at 71kg, while others have made it into the top 20.
This was their first international competition since December 2021.
The team of Individual Neutral Athletes
“We are back home, back in the family… I can’t describe how good it feels,” said Vitaliy Kreidich, vice-president of the Belarus Weightlifting Federation and part of the team who managed 13 lifters, eight men and five women, in Havana.
Mohamed Jalood, the IWF president, said, “We saw here that weightlifting is a sport for all. The team respected the conditions they signed up to, they came as neutrals and everybody respected them on the platform, on the podium, everywhere.”
Kreidich said, “It has been very good here in Cuba, good organisation, accommodation, training facilities.
“All the teams have been happy to see us, we were welcomed back on to the platform.
There were no bad vibes, no pressure, everything seemed ideal.
“It is too early to say who did what in terms of Olympic qualifying here, because there are still four competitions to come” said Kreidich. “We trained well, but we can do better.”
Yauheni Tsikhantsou (AIN)
Belarus will have a chance to repay Cuba for its hospitality, and will not have to compete in grey in August when it hosts the multi-sport CIS Games for former Soviet states and others.
Cuba will be there, one of 10 nations in weightlifting and one of 20 across a range of sports, said Kreidich.
The Havana Grand Prix – the first global weightlifting competition hosted by Cuba for 50 years – was the last chance for weightlifters from Russia and Belarus to enter Olympic qualifying as neutral individuals.
Russia declined because they did not agree with the “unacceptable” conditions imposed by the IWF, which was following recommendations drawn up by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after it suspended both nations because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Our president (Aleksandr Lukashenko) was not happy that there was no flag, no anthem, no national uniform but he agreed to the conditions because he understands how hard it is for athletes when they cannot compete,” said Kreidich.
Sourcing a completely new outfit for the team, which had to be grey with no national emblems, was not easy. By the time Kreidich had bought the material everything was a rush. He had to drive to a national clothing factory 500 kilometres from Minsk, the capital, and arrived after midnight. Everything was finally ready at 5pm the day before departure for Cuba.
The average age of the five women in Cuba was just under 21, compared with 24.5 for the men. “We have a good mix in our team who are trying for the Olympic Games – young athletes with potential, and older, experienced athletes,” said Kreidich.
Angie Palacios (ECU)
Palacios, from Ecuador, was the only world record breaker in Cuba, with a snatch of 121kg at 71kg. She is part of the remarkable family that has produced Olympic and continental champions, including her sister Neisi, who won at 81kg in Havana.
Koanda overcame cramp to win in her first competition at 81kg, and Irawan is on course for a record fifth Olympic medal. He posted career-high numbers after going up to 67kg, and his team-mates Ricko Saputra and Rahmat Erwin won at 61kg and 81kg.
Solfrid Koanda (NOR)
The quality of the women’s 81kg session in Havana is evident in the updated ranking lists for Paris 2024. Four of the top 10 at that weight made their best total in Havana. Across all weight categories for men and women, totals made in Havana feature 16 times in the top 10.
There were good results for the United States, most notably by Hampton Morris at 61kg, Wes Kitts at 102kg and Taylor Wilkins at 59kg.
Arley Calderon moved into the Paris top 10 at 61kg after finishing third, a performance that helped Cuba to finish top of the men’s team classification.
By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games