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Riyadh, Day 5: Luo puts last year’s failure behind her to give China another world title

China’s national anthem was played for the fourth time in four days after Luo Shifang put the disappointment of last year behind her to win a sweep of golds in an exciting women’s 59kg contest at the IWF World Championships in Riyadh.

At the 2022 World Championships in Bogotá last December, this was the only women’s Olympic category in which China failed to win a medal on total. Luo Shifang and Luo Xiaomin finished fourth and fifth.

This time Luo Xiaomin was replaced by 18-year-old Pei Xinyi, a multiple junior and youth world record holder who won at the non-Olympic weight of 64kg in Bogotá. Pei finished third here on 102-130-232 behind Luo Shifang, who made a six-from-six 107-136-243, and the Ukrainian European champion Kamila Konotop on 106-130-236.

Luo Shifang (CHN)

Olympic champion Kuo Hsing-Chun from Chinese Taipei lifted in the C Group yesterday and still won a medal, the clean and jerk silver on 130kg, the same number as third-placed Konotop and Pei.

Kuo was fourth on total on 231kg, ahead of last year’s winner Yenny Alvarez from Colombia, who made 100-129-229. Another C Group lifter, Rafiatu Lawal from Nigeria, was sixth with a total of 225kg.

Asia is the dominant force in weightlifting so was Luo surprised to see so many contenders from Europe, South America, Africa and the United States – Taylor Wilkins was 10th on 220kg – on the scoreboard?

“Yes I was a little bit surprised” replied Luo, 22. “But I am confident that I can maintain my dominance.

“I am proud of my performance, and very happy that I didn’t let anybody down, that everything went to plan.

“You will feel different things on different stages but the main thing that kept me going since last year was the knowledge that I am still young, still improving, gaining in experience and in confidence.”

Hidilyn Diaz, the Olympic champion at 55kg who had to move up when that category was dropped for Paris, showed improvement on only her second appearance at 59kg.

After winning the world title at 55kg last year Diaz had found the jump in weight difficult to cope with when she made 221kg in finishing fourth at the Asian Championships in Korea in May.

Here she improved that total by 3kg and edged ahead of her Philippines team-mate Elreen Ando with a successful final clean and jerk of 127kg.

Kuo made 236kg in Tokyo to finish well clear of her rivals. Polina Guryeva won silver for Turkmenistan with 217kg and Mikiko Ando from Japan took bronze on 214kg.


Kamila Konotop (UKR)

When the rankings are updated a few days after the World Championships finish, 217kg and 214kg will be well down the list. Ando totalled 216kg in Riyadh, better than her Tokyo medal-winning effort but good enough only for 13th place here.

The standard in this class has gone way up, and far bigger numbers will be needed for a place on the podium in Paris. Tom Goegebuer, triple Olympian coach of ninth-placed Nina Sterckx and president of the Belgian Weightlifting Federation, said, “Qualifying for the Olympic Games is harder than lifting at the Olympic Games.”

The versatile Sterckx made a career-best five-from-six 99-121-220 and is now ranked in the top 10 at both 49kg and 59kg.

“It’s the same in the 49s,” said Gorgebuer. “It’s harder to qualify because there are fewer Olympic places available than last time, not so many weight classes, and people take more risks.”

Pei Xinyi (CHN)

Those risks are paying off enough times for the top 20 to be a far higher standard than before.

“If the qualifying system was the same as last time, three periods and an average from the three best results in those periods, Nina would not be going for these numbers.”

There was another sea of red in the B Group, in which none of the 11 athletes managed to better the top three in the C Group – Kuo, Lawal and her Nigeria team-mate Adijat Olarinoye.

Madagascar finished off its most successful World Championships to date when Tojo Andriatsitohaina made a huge jump in the Olympic rankings in the men’s 73kg D Group, from 35th place to 12th.

Like his three team-mates “Tojo”, as Andriatsitohaina is known, made a big improvement to his career-best total, finishing 153-178-331. He had never competed before at this weight in an IWF competition, having posted his previous qualifying best of 300kg at 67kg.

A 153kg snatch won bronze in last year’s IWF World Championships and if things go his way in the other sessions on Saturday, Tojo might win make the podium from the D Group.

That would be a fourth medal for the team. Rosina Randafiarison had a sweep of silvers in the women’s 45kg, the best performance at a World Championships in any Olympic sport by a Malagasy athlete.

All four team members in Riyadh won a sweep of golds at the Indian Ocean Island Games in their home nation less than two weeks ago, two of them with bigger totals than they made here.

And all four prepared for their Island Games-World Championships double header by working hard at a four-month training camp in China.

Madagascar has been sending dozens of athletes from five sports to training camps in China since 2017 – disrupted for a couple of years by Covid – and the results are clearly paying off.

“What we learned most while we were there was discipline,” said Tojo’s brother Eric, who has turned to coaching after his career was ended by injury.

“Everybody has benefited from the training camp, and the rest of the world should take notice and start worrying about Madagascar. Here we come.”

By Brian Oliver, Inside the Games

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia