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Doha, Preview: Shi Zhiyong back at last as champions and world record holders boost quality of IWF Grand Prix

Nine Olympic gold medallists, nine current world champions and 13 world record holders will lift over the next two weeks in the Olympic qualifier in Doha Qatar. There will also be a formidable DPRK team featuring three women who set world records eight weeks ago.

There are a few notable absentees, including Lasha Talakhadze, Akbar Djuraev, Kuo Hsing-chun and Neisi Dajomes, and 14 strong contenders for the all-important top ten places in the rankings have opted to weigh in without lifting. But the second IWF Grand Prix of the year is not far away from World Championships standard.

This is the fifth of seven qualifying opportunities for those hoping to compete in August at Paris 2024. It starts this Monday and ends on December 14.

Shi Zhiyong (CHN)

One of those nine Olympic champions, Shi Zhiyong from China, stands 78th in the rankings at 73kg because injury has prevented him making from making a single lift in competition since he won in Tokyo. He has participated by weighing in but has no total. At last Shi, who won at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, is ready to return to the platform.

In the absence of the two Indonesians who have starred in this category but are not among the 382 entries for the Grand Prix, Rahmat Erwin and Rizki Juniansyah, Shi’s main rivals are likely to be from across the world. European champion Ritvars Suharevs from Latvia has the highest entry total, while others expected to challenge for medals include world champion Weeraphon Wichuma from Thailand, Pan American champion Julio Mayora from Venezuela and the rapidly improving Tojo Andriatsitohaina from Madagascar, who spent many weeks this year at a training camp in China.

Weeraphon Wichuma (THA)

Another Tokyo winner hoping to make a move in the rankings is Meso Hassona (Fares Elbakh) from the host nation at 102kg. He is sixth in the rankings on 391kg, and may need a few kilos more than that to make the top ten by the end of qualifying in April. Meso has the highest entry total of 400kg, a number made by only one man to date in qualifying, Liu Huanhua from China, whose entry is 10kg lower.

PRK athletes cannot qualify for Paris because they missed too many competitions. If they perform as they did on their return at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China two months ago they could win plenty of medals and chase more world records.

The women’s 49kg and 59kg categories in Doha would have been exceptionally strong without PRK’s presence. With world record holders Ri Gong Sum and Kim Il Gyong taking part, these two A Groups should be among the highlights of the competition.

After Ri, Kim and Kang Hyon Gyong all broke world records in Hangzhou, helping PRK to top the medals table, China’s head women’s coach Wang Guoxin said China was no longer the world number one.

“Now DPRK is ahead of us and we need to catch up,” Wang said. “The DPRK team at the Asian Games has delivered wonderful results… this is a healthy trend and we welcome it.”

China’s women’s super-heavyweight multiple champion and record-breaker Li Wenwen is easing her way back from an injury sustained at the World Championships and has entered on 253kg, about 80kg below her best. There will be a fascinating American head-to-head here between Sarah Robles and Mary Theisen Lappen, who are separated by one place in the extended rankings.

Mary Theisen Lappen (USA)

Those who have opted for weigh-in only include Mirabai Chanu from India and Beatriz Piron from Dominican Republic at 49kg, the Egyptians Neama Said and Sara Samir, and Brazilians Amanda da Costa and Laura Amaro.

All of Iran’s top male contenders will weigh in without lifting, as will Safaa Rashid from Iraq, Karim Abokahla from Egypt, Jhonatan Rivas from Colombia and Gor Minasyan from Bahrain.

Apart from China and PRK, Thailand also sends a very strong team.

By Brian Oliver