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Riyadh, Preview: Stellar cast can make it a World Championships for the ages as Saudi Arabia plays host for first time

An impressive array of top-quality athletes, coupled with the event’s wider importance in Olympic qualifying, can make the 2023 IWF World Championships one to remember.

Saudi Arabia hosts the IWF’s flagship event for the first time at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Olympic Complex in Riyadh, the capital city, where more than 700 athletes will take part from September 4-17.

They include all 20 current world champions, the 13 Tokyo Olympic gold medallists who are still competing, 17 world record holders and a host of continental champions.

Everybody who is intent on competing at Paris 2024 must travel to Riyadh because this is the first of two mandatory events in qualifying, where athletes must participate. Those who are not fully fit, or who are going to the Asian Games and worried about competing twice in a month, can choose to weigh in without lifting, which 27 athletes have done.

They include champions and record breakers Maude Charron from Canada, Mirabai Chanu from India, Lesman Paredes from Bahrain, Loredana Toma from Romania and Karlos Nasar from Bulgaria.

Despite their absence, the line-up in Riyadh is of the highest quality.

China, the sport’s global powerhouse, sends its strongest team and unlike last year all the big names are expected to lift.

Shi Zhiyong (CHN)

There is a welcome return for Shi Zhiyong, who has been injured and has not lifted since winning gold at 73kg in the Tokyo Olympic Games more than two years ago. He is due to compete in the 81kg C Group.

Whether because of fitness concerns or tactics, Shi is not the only Olympic champion listed in a C Group. Kuo Hsing-Chun from Chinese Taipei, the 59kg winner in Tokyo, is another, and several more big-name athletes are in B and C Groups. One, the 55kg world champion and multiple junior world record holder Seeraphong Silachai from Thailand, is in the 61kg D Group.

The A Groups could be closely contested classic sessions regardless. At 102kg, five men have posted entry totals of 400kg or more, including the Olympic champion Meso Hassona from Qatar and two Armenians, Samvel Gasparyan and the teenager Garik Karapetyan. Nobody eligible for Paris has yet made 400kg in qualifying.

There is an Uzbekistan head-to-head between an Olympic champion and a world record holder when Akbar Djuraev and Ruslan Nurudinov contest the men’s 109kg. In the men’s super-heavyweights all eight athletes in the A Group, the final session of the Championships on September 17, have entry totals of 440kg or more.

There is quality in the lighter weights too.

In the women’s 49kg three women in the simplified rankings for Paris have made 200kg or more, one of whom, Chanu, has declared that she will not lift. Seven women have posted entry totals of 200kg or more in Riyadh.

Only two men have made 300kg or more in qualifying at 61kg. Even though one of them, Eko Yuli Irawan from Indonesia, has gone up to 67kg at the World Championships, 10 athletes have an entry total of 300kg or more.

Besides Saudi Arabia, the only two nations sending maximum teams of 20 are the United States and Colombia, while Korea and Mexico send 19 athletes, and China and Spain 18. Canada, Armenia, Japan, Thailand, Hungary, Iran, Thailand, Chinese Taipei and Turkmenistan have teams of 14 or more.

The 20-year-old Korean Park Hyejeong will be one to watch as she attempts the rare feat of making a 300kg total in the women’s super-heavyweights, having made 295kg last time out at the Asian Championships.

Park Hyejeong (KOR)

Colombia’s team includes the 59kg world champion Yenny Alvarez and Olympic silver medallist Luis Javier Mosquera, who has not made a lift in qualifying to date because of a serious wrist injury and is due to compete in the 73kg B Group.

Egypt appears to have the strongest team from the Arab world and should get plenty of support. Its top hopes are Sara Samir at 76kg, Neama Said at 71kg and Karim Abokahla in the men’s 96kg.

The International Technical Officials are going to be busy. There are 66 sessions, and the longest days will run from 0700 until about 2330, from first weigh-in to last lift.

By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games