News and Media


Guadalajara, Day 1: Sensational start by USA teenager – and landmark gold medal for hosts Mexico

While athletes from Mexico and Turkey ended their junior careers in fine style, the American teenager Isabella Rodriguez began hers with a remarkable performance on the opening day of the 2023 World Junior Championships in Guadalajara.

José Poox just about timed it right to win the men’s 55kg for the host nation. According to his national federation, it was the first time a Mexican had won a men’s junior world title.

José Poox (MEX)

Cansu Bektas from Turkey won the first event, the women’s 45kg, and 18-year-old Huang Yi-Chen from Chinese Taipei held off her challengers in an exciting 49kg contest in which the first four finishers were separated by 2kg.

Arguably the best effort, however, came from Rodriguez, who finished 1kg behind Huang in the final few minutes of an eight-hour day at the Weightlifting Forum. Until the end of last year Rodriguez, 19, was a track sprinter. She first lifted at a local meet 13 months ago and this was her international debut.

Among the first to congratulate her after she made huge gains in the clean and jerk – despite having her second attempt overruled by the jury – was IWF President Mohammed Jalood.

“She was seventh in the snatch but you could see she had very good technique, and I told her she could win a medal,” Jalood said. “She reminded me of (Olympic champion) Hidilyn Diaz.”

Isabella Rodriguez (USA)

Another who saw something special, before Rodriguez ever lifted a barbell, was her coach Spencer Arnold. “She was running as a sprinter at my old school (in Georgia). When I saw her power out of the blocks I knew she could be good as a weightlifter,” Arnold said. “She played basketball but she’s five feet tall, she’s made for weightlifting.”

The first person Rodriguez spoke to after her medal-winning debut was her training partner Jourdan Delacruz who, like Canada’s Olympic champion Maude Charron, is also coached by Arnold.

“Jourdan helped me with this entire competition prep, and has helped me as long as I’ve been lifting,” said Rodriguez, 19. “She just told me to go out, trust my technique and strength, and here we are.

“I was still a track athlete until the end of 2022, the 100-metre dash and 200-metre dash. It took Spencer nearly three years to persuade me to take up weightlifting and I didn’t do it until after my last meet as a sprinter.

“Honestly I should have listened to him earlier, I should have taken it up in my sophomore year when I was 15. Now my plan is to be a full-time weightlifter.

“Where I’m at right now as far as my training, my environment, the amount of hours I put in, I’m in a good spot. Now my long-term ambition is to make LA 2028.”

Rodriguez made four good lifts, took clean and jerk gold, and bettered her national-meet numbers across the board, finishing 72-99-171. Huang made 76-96-172, and Nozomi Abe from Japan edged out Kerlys Montilla from Venezuela for third place on total.

Huang Yi-Chen (TPE)

Montilla won silver in snatch and bronze in clean and jerk but, remarkably, was out of the medals on total because she failed with two clean and jerks and made her 170kg total after Abe.

Poox, 20, had won silver and bronze in junior and youth IWF championships, and plenty more medals besides but today was the day he wanted gold above all others.

“I’m so happy, so proud. I’ve waited so long for this and now I have won gold in my own country,” said Poox, whose first international competition came just after his 14th birthday in 2017. “I knew it was my last chance in the juniors.”

He made all six lifts in his 103-131-234 for a sweep of golds, despite a worrying moment when he came out for his first clean and jerk attempt.

“I thought I had a full minute but then somebody shouted (from the audience) and I looked at the clock and saw I had less than 15 seconds.”

Poox was still chalking his hands and trying to calm his nerves at the time, and the clock dipped below 10 seconds when he dashed on to the platform and rushed the lift. He took a deep breath, beat the clock and made a good lift. 

“I was a bit anxious, but now I’m so happy to be champion,” he said. After 11 straight competitions at the minimum weight of 55kg, Poox is planning to go up to 61kg next year.

Kento Kousaka from Japan finished second on 97-130-227 and Andrii Revko from Ukraine, who failed with his final two attempts, was third on 100-120-220. Poox’s team-mate Wilfredo Aleman took bronze in clean and jerk on 121kg.

The women’s 45kg podium

Turkey took gold and bronze in the opening event of the Championships when Bektas and Gamze Altun both made career bests at 45kg in their final competition as juniors.

Bektas continued her remarkable run of success with a clear-cut victory on 73-90-163, posting personal bests in snatch and total. In 12 international competitions she has finished on the podium 11 times, winning world and European youth and junior titles, as well as senior continental gold and a senior Worlds bronze this year.

“Yes, it was a good way to finish as a junior,” said a happy Bektas. “It was my best total in competition but I’ve done 170 in training.”

Bektas is already looking forward to trying for another senior Worlds medal next year, when she expects to move up to 49kg. Her 16-year-old sister Aysu has a promising career too, having won European Under-15 gold and silver medals.

Altun, also 20, made a remarkable improvement after sitting in 10th place at halfway. “In the snatch I was so disappointed, but after that I knew I could lift perfectly in clean and jerk,” she said. “With the help of God I got third place.”

Altun made 63-91-154, winning clean and jerk gold and improving her career best by 2kg. Second place went to Marta Garcia from Spain, another 20-year-old, who made 71-86-157. Habiba Saad from Egypt took snatch bronze on 69kg.

This session featured the two youngest athletes among the 229 entries, Kateryna Malashchuk from Ukraine and Kim Camilleri from Malta, both 15.

By Brian Oliver

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia