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China sends a strong message before the Paris 2024 Olympics

In the first final of an Olympic bodyweight category at the 2023 IWF World Championships, the women’s 49kg, the team of China demonstrated once again why they are so hard to beat in the lighter categories. In the 10-athlete Group A, there were in fact two distinct competitions – the one between Hou Zhihui and her Chinese teammate Jiang Huihua for the gold, and then the rest of the field for the third place, won by US Jourdan Delacruz.

The Asian duel opposed the 2020ne Olympic champion and world record holder (213kg) Hou and the 2022 champion and 2023 Asian gold medallist Jiang, with a personal best of 212kg. In the Paris 2024 Olympic ranking, the latter was already an advantage with her 207kg from the continental showcase, while the Tokyo winner had 204kg, also from Jinju (KOR).

Jiang Huihua (CHN)

In Riyadh, the two lifters from the Asian powerhouse appeared in great shape, delivering an outstanding show and very solid performances. In the end, Jiang got the gold in a new world record of 215kg (95+120, also a new WR in the clean and jerk). The previous best global mark was in Hou’s hands from 2021. The current Olympic champion finished second in Saudi Arabia, with a total of 211kg (95+116). With this result, the two Chinese lifters naturally lead the Olympic ranking, but Jiang has a decisive advantage, as only one athlete per nation can compete in each bodyweight category at Games time.

Asked about her expectations coming to Riyadh, Jiang Huihua promptly replies: “The first goal was to ensure that the gold medal stays in Chinese hands. After having the guarantee that the victory would come to China, we then thought about the World Record. To be honest, at the beginning of the competition this wasn’t on my mind, but with the way the final unfolded, the idea got consolidated. But the priority was to be on the top of the podium”.

Hou Zhihui (CHN)

Having reinforced her position at the lead of the Olympic ranking qualifying for Paris, Jiang is confident that she will maintain that status until the Games unfold in the French capital. “Nothing is definitive, but I will for sure do my best to remain in the first position. If I always try my best and I am successful, I believe it will be difficult to lose this advantage,” the 2023 world champion admits.

Reflecting on the “internal” fight within the Chinese team, Jiang is quite pragmatic: “I don’t really think about that. The main thing is to do always the best I can. If this is enough, that’s good. If I cannot make it, well, the door is open for the others”. And she quickly adds: “I may still have some room to improve this world record…” Finally, for Paris, the target is already set: “Lift at least these 215kg!”

Next to her, the Vice-President of the Chinese Weightlifting Association Liu Chengliang was also a happy man. “The Chinese team values a lot this competition, the biggest and most prestigious event in the IWF calendar. All the lifters from our delegation prepared very seriously for this event, as we naturally expect to get good results”. On this so brilliant start, the Chinese official praised the two athletes: “They both have brilliant careers and achieved excellent results. Being so good lifters, they always aim at the gold. Today, they didn’t fail and on top of that Jiang improved Hou’s world record. The gold was expected, but the global mark was a good surprise. Overall, it was a brilliant performance! It reflects quite well the Olympic spirit: to always strive for the best”.

The women’s 49kg podium

On the Paris 2024 prospects, Mr Liu is optimistic, but emphasises that the Olympic competition is “full of uncertainties. That is why they must remain concentrated and perform at their best, without hesitation”. And he goes on: “We must also not forget that many young and talented athletes are appearing at the highest level. There is a lot of improvement worldwide and the quality of the lifters is constantly increasing. In Paris, the field will be extremely strong. We don’t take nothing for granted!”

On the upcoming days, the Chinese responsible is also clear: “We haven’t established any limit in terms of medals. We are confident that it will be successful and that the hard preparation won’t let us down”.

At the 2020ne Tokyo Games, out of the 14 gold medals at stake (seven in each gender), the Chinese team won half of them (four among men and three in the women’s field).

By Pedro Adrega, IWF Communications

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia