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Doha, Day 1: Winning start for PRK, and a weight struggle for Madagascar’s medal hero

The DPR Korea team started with victory on the opening day of the IWF Grand Prix in Qatar, just as they had done at the Asian Games in China two months ago.

Pang Un Chol won the men’s 55kg, the only medal event on day one at the Aspire Zone in Doha. It was his second international competition, more than four years after the first when he finished third at the Asian Junior Championships with a total of 241kg at this weight.

Pang, 22, made all six lifts in his 116-152-268. His impressive total was only 1kg lower than Lai Gia Thanh from Vietnam made in winning the world title two months ago in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Pang finished a long way ahead of two men who made career-best numbers, Satrio Adi from Indonesia on 115-139-243 and Dilanka Yodage from Sri Lanka on 112-133-245.

PRK was absent during the Covid pandemic, withdrew from the Tokyo Olympic Games, and did not return in any sport until the Asian Games in Hangzhou this year. PRK topped the medals table ahead of China there, and with a team of seven men and nine women in Doha, three of them world record holders, they have a chance of doing so again at the Grand Prix.

The women’s 49kg A Group is not until Tuesday but already we have seen a double world champion, two continental champions, two Tokyo Olympians, and multiple age-group medallists in today’s B Group.

Many of the athletes were moving up or down from non-Olympic categories to try for a good qualifying total, and only one did it, first-placed Pham Dinh Tri from Vietnam on 81-102-183.

The first lift of the session was made by Thanyathon Sukcharoen from Thailand, who has twice won world titles at 45kg. She declined two snatch attempts and is clearly waiting for better fitness.

Next out was Rosina Randafiarison, who was second at this year’s World Championships in Saudi Arabia, also at 45kg. That made her the first athlete in any Olympic sport to win a World Championships medal for Madagascar.

Madagascar team of Rosina Randafarison with coach Eric Andriantsitohaina and his brother Tojo, who lifts on Wednesday

The 10 per cent increase in body weight has caused problems for Randafiarison, 24. Although she weighed more here, her total was 15kg lower than her 170kg in Riyadh in September.

“That wasn’t easy,” she said. “It’s difficult to move when you put on weight, your body doesn’t feel right. I eat more, sleep more, but when you feel full it’s like your body doesn’t want to move.”

Her coach Eric Andriantsitohaina, whose brother Tojo competes here at 73kg, said, “We need a few more months but we hope to be ready for Paris.”

There is a close contest between Randafiarison and the five-time Olympian Dika Toua for the continental place at 49kg. They both look certain to finish outside the top ten, below which only the highest-placed athlete from a continent not automatically qualified will go to Paris. Randfiarison has a best qualifying total of 170kg while Toua, from Papua New Guinea, has made 166kg.

Fang Wan-Ling from Chinese Taipei tried to overtake team-mate Lin Cheng Jing in the extended ranking list when she went for a 12kg jump on her last clean and jerk. In a session that featured a lot of red lights, she missed it. 

By Brian Oliver