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Doha, Day 8: “We showed the world how strong we are” says team manager after PRK signs off with ninth victory

DPR Korea ended a highly successful trip to Qatar by claiming a ninth victory at the IWF Grand Prix. They have no entries in the final three days at the Aspire Zone in Doha.

The entire team gathered for a photo session on the platform at the end of day eight after Jong Chun Hui embellished PRK’s place at the top of the medals table by winning the women’s 76kg. Turkmenistan also celebrated in large numbers on the platform after teenager Shahzadbek Matyabukov won the men’s 96kg, in which Yang Tae Bong took bronze for PRK.

PRK’s final medal tally on total was nine golds, three silvers and one bronze. Ri Suk was the star performer, claiming a senior clean and jerk world record in the women’s 64kg and bettering junior world records seven times in five lifts. Kim Il Gyong also broke a junior world record at 59kg.

Of all the weight categories in which they competed, the only one where they failed to win a medal on total was the men’s 89kg, in which Ro Kwang Ryol finished fourth.

Jong Chui Hui (PRK)

“Of course we expect to do well,” said Jang Son Nam, the PRK team manager. “Our target was to win more than 20 gold medals, and with three more today we have won 26.

“China and DPRK are always challenging in competitions. Our team is very strong and we showed our abilities in front of the world.”

PRK had more athletes than any other nation in Doha, seven men and nine women, and were the only team whose athletes cannot qualify for Paris 2024, because they joined the qualifying pathway too late. PRK withdrew from the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games during the Covid pandemic, and did not end a four-year absence from international competition until October, when they topped the medals table at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

Jang said that PRK would send teams to the two remaining qualifying events, the Asian Championships in Uzbekistan in February and the IWF World Cup in Thailand from March 31 to April 11.

Jong lifted alone after everyone else had finished. She missed her last two clean and jerks in making 115-135-250, and still finished 25kg clear of second-placed Gintare Brazaite from Lithuania, who made a six-from-six 100-125-225.

Gintare Brazaite (LTU)

“I’m very happy with that, it’s time to celebrate,” said 31-year-old Brazaite. “It’s my first six-from-six in an international competition, and I’ve been in weightlifting for 11 years.”

Alexia Gonzalez from USA was third on 93-114-207 in her first international competition. Polina Guryeva, who became Turkmenistan’s first Olympic medallist in any sport when she took silver at 59kg in Tokyo, is making a comeback after becoming a mother. She made 82-109-191 in fourth place.

Alexia Gonzalez (USA)

The entire Turkmenistan team had celebrated loudly three hours earlier when teenager Matyakubov overcame a recent illness to win the men’s 96kg. Tuesday is a major holiday in Turkmenistan, the Day of Neutrality, and Matyakubov’s victory was “a gift to our country”, said national coach Mansur Rejepov.

Three weeks ago Matyakubov, 19, was struck by flu symptoms at the World Juniors in Mexico. He was unable to make his final lift in Guadalajara when he finished second to the Iranian Alireza Nassiri, and was still ill for a week on his return home.

Shahzadbek Matyakubov (TKM)

Despite his shortened preparation he made a bigger total in Doha. Matyabukov had a nervous wait during a jury review of his final attempt, but the lift was a good one and that meant six-from-six and a career high of 167-204-371.

Davit Hovhannisyan had to make his last attempt on 205kg for a sweep of golds but he failed, finishing 170-200-370, clear of Yang on 161-201-362. Petr Asayonak, the Individual Neutral Athlete from Belarus who is in the top ten of the 89kg rankings, was below his best in clean and jerk after taking snatch bronze, finishing sixth on 162-190-352.

Davit Hovhannisyan (ARM)

There was an impressive international debut in the morning session, the women’s 81kg B Group, by the former track and field athlete Ilke Lagrou from Belgium. “I only started weightlifting in September last year when I switched from hammer throwing, and I really like it,” Lagrou said after making five good lifts for 101-121-222.

Lagrou, a physiotherapist who trains five to six times a week, did power training in her throwing career, which gave her a head start. She lives near the home gym of Nina Sterckx, Belgium’s biggest name in weightlifting, so she headed there to train alongside her and learn from coaches Tom Goegebuer and Bieke Vandenabeele.

“Now I will go to the European Championships in February,” Lagrou said. “I really look up to Solfrid Koanda (Norway’s multiple champion at 81kg) and it will be nice to meet her and compete with her. It went really well today. This total was enough to qualify me for the World Championships next year. My big dream for the future is to try for the Los Angeles Olympics.”

By Brian Oliver

Photos by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia