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Riyadh, Day 1: The numbers look good for Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Madagascar

A Saudi Arabian athlete appropriately made the opening lift when the 2023 IWF World Championships began in Riyadh, where a number of other “firsts” and records will be made over the next two weeks.

This is the first time Saudi Arabia has hosted a weightlifting World Championships, at 14 days it is the longest to date, and it the first one at which all athletes hoping to compete at the next Olympic Games must take part, under the Paris 2024 qualifying rules.

It features the most athletes and the most International Technical Officials ever at 719 and 65 respectively, and the IWF Congress on September 12 is on course for a record attendance, with 153 nations due to attend.

Saudi athletes and the IWF President Mohammed Jalood

“I hope we see one more record here too – for the most world records at a World Championships,” said IWF president Mohammed Jalood.

There was no world record on day one but Jalood was delighted to witness a memorable moment when Rosina Randafiarison gave Madagascar its first World Championships medal not just in weightlifting but in any Olympic sport.

Randafiarison screamed and screamed, then leaped into the arms of her coach after making her final snatch attempt at 77kg in the women’s 45kg, the first medal event of the Championships.

Rosina Randafiarison (MAD)

That secured snatch silver and Randafiarison had more reason to scream when she matched it in the clean and jerk despite failing with her final two attempts.

Randafiarison, 23, improved her career best by 14kg on 77-93-170 behind the clear winner Siriwimon Pramangkhol from Thailand, who declined her final lift and finished 78-101-179.

“It’s wonderful – we have never won a medal like this before,” said Alex Randriamanarivo, president of the Madagascar Weightlifting Federation and general secretary of its National Olympic Committee.

Thailand took the title for a third straight time despite the fact that the reigning champion Thanyathon Sukcharoen failed to make a total.

Sukcharoen, a winner at 45kg in 2021 and 2022, was competing in the C Group at the Olympic weight of 49kg and made only a solitary snatch of 70kg.

She is joint second in the Olympic rankings alongside Mirabai Chanu from India. Like the Tokyo silver medallist Chanu, who withdrew after weighing in, Sukcharoen may be saving herself for the Asian Games which begin in Hangzhou, China on September 30.

The women’s 45kg podium

Pramongkhol made five from five and bettered her winning total at the Asian Championships by 1kg.

Cansu Bektas, the European champion from Turkey, was third on 75-87-162, so three different continents were represented on the podium.

Monerah Alrowitea opened the Championships with a good lift in the 49kg D Group. Alrowitea is the first of 10 Saudi females here, a record team size for a nation where there was no women’s weightlifting before 2019.

Another team with more World Championship athletes than ever before is Ireland, a sign of impressive growth.

Rebecca Copeland had a career-best total of 149kg, and Tham Nguyen was hoping for a career high too after a 79kg snatch bettered her previous top effort by 1kg.

Rebecca Copeland (IRL)

Two failures in clean and jerk left Nguyen on 172kg, just short of her best total in qualifying to date and she remains 20th in the standings.

The team of six in Riyadh is the largest Ireland has ever sent to an IWF World Championships, in a year when it also sent its biggest team to date to the European Youth and Under-15 Championships.

It had its most successful missions to two other continental events, the seniors in April and the junior and under-23s in July.

“It has really taken off – you can feel a buzz around Irish weightlifting now,” said national coach Harry Leech.

“Until 2014 we had never even entered a woman in European or World Championships.”

Back then, there were no weightlifting-only clubs in Ireland: now there are 29 affiliated clubs.

Nguyen won Ireland’s first ever medal at the European Championships in Yerevan, Armenia in April and was later chosen by the IWF as one of 10 athletes to receive $5,000 to help fund their Olympic qualifying effort.

Ireland also had its first European under-15 medallist in July, and its first female continental Under-23 medallist in August, Callum Quinn and Keilin Coleman respectively.

There is more of everything for Ireland now – medals, money and most important of all, athletes.

There are about 600 registered members, and for the first time there is state funding for the Olympic hopefuls, €30,000 specifically to help the four athletes in the Paris 2024 qualifying system – Nguyen, Hannah Crymble, Gillian Barry and Seán Brown.

“When I started in weightlifting in 1999 there were 79 athletes on the ranking list in Ireland and only two of them were women,” said Leech.

He said Irish weightlifting had benefited from the general trend of “women feeling strong, women training with weights, young women seeing the sport on social media and saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know weightlifters looked like that.’

“At our competitions the women outnumber the men 60-40.”

By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia