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Guadalajara, Day 6: Debutant Hein claims another gold for USA – and non-stop Jimenez wins for Ecuador

The United States had a debutant winner and a 17-year-old silver medallist on day six of the World Junior Championships in Guadalajara. Those results put Team USA clear at the top of the medals table with three days to go.

Elijah ‘EJ’ Hein became the third American winner of the Championships, after Gabe Chhum and Katie Estep, when he saw off a strong challenge from Europe in the men’s 89kg. A couple of hours earlier, youth world champion Ella Nicholson had finished second behind the impressive Ecuadorian Kelin Jimenez in the women’s 76kg.

Elijah ‘Ej’ Hein (USA)

Hein, 20, is a successful CrossFitter as well as a weightlifter. “I’ve done weightlifting for seven years and this makes all the hard work worth it,” he said. “This was my first international meet, and I had the 16 weeks of my life preparing for it. You gotta love the grind.

“I love weightlifting and I love CrossFit too. The idea is to keep going with both of them. I’m also studying mechanical engineering at the University of Oklahoma – that’s my back-up plan.”

His parents, Tim and Stephanie, were there to see Hein’s remarkable six-from-six performance – only the second of his life – and both got a big hug. Hein’s best numbers before today were 150-175-325; now they are 158-193-351. “I’d done 160-200 in training,” he said.

His coach Ray Harkness joined in the celebrations. “I told him two years ago that he could do this, but he didn’t believe me,” Harkness said. Hein’s next competition will be the American Open finals next month.

Inhatsi Pauliukavets (AIN)

The first three in the European Junior Championships were among those hoping to overhaul Hein, along with the Individual Neutral Athlete Inhatsi Pauliukavets from Belarus, who made five from six.

Pauliukavets, 18, was unable to lift in the European competition but here he outperformed his continent’s top three juniors, making 156-192-348 for second place. European champion Suren Grigoryan from Armenia, who was second in last year’s World Juniors, had two lifts remaining when everybody else had finished. But he had missed two snatches and needed to make up 12kg, which was beyond him.

The Georgian Zurab Mskhaladze, second behind Grigoryan in July, was third here on 155-191-346. The 18-year-old European bronze medallist Ertjan Kofsha, from Albania, won snatch gold but made only his final clean and jerk, finishing fourth on 159-186-345. Jonathan Ramos from Mexico took clean and jerk silver on 192kg and finished sixth, one place behind Grigoryan.

In the women’s event Nicholson missed three of her attempts and was in tears before the medal ceremony, but given the gap in age and experience, Jimenez was always favourite.

Kelin Jimenez (ECU)

This last appearance as a junior was the 16th competition of her career for Jimenez, 20, despite losing an entire year when the Covid pandemic wrecked the weightlifting calendar. By comparison Nicholson had competed only once before, winning the youth world title in Albania in March, three months before her 17th birthday.

Jimenez has finished sixth in the senior World Championships twice, and won the Pan American junior title this year. Now she can take a well-earned rest.

“I like to work hard and compete,” she said. “I want to be busy, I don’t like to take vacations but I have had a knee injury preparing for this and now I will have a break because of that.”

Angeles Cruz (MEX)

Jimenez narrowly escaped a catastrophic injury last year when she dropped the barbell on her back and passed out at the Bolivarian Games in Colombia. But she had done nothing serious and was back on the platform a few weeks later at the senior Pan American Championships.

Because Ecuador has Olympic gold and silver medallists Neisi Dajomes and Tamara Salazar in the 81kg category, Jimenez said she plans to stick at her current weight in the seniors. Her successes have inspired her younger brother, Michael. “He is 12 and he just lifted in a national competition for the first time,” said Jimenez, who made 104-130-234.

Nicholson posted 105-122-227 from her three good lifts, and unsuccessfully went for a youth world record total on her final attempt at 127kg. The Mexican Angeles Cruz was third on 100-123-223.

By Brian Oliver

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia